CREATED in the last years of peace before the Second World War, this triple bill dramatically emphasises Frederick Ashton’s genius at using dance as a means to convey every human emotion.

The company’s founder choreographer was truly an artist at his easel when he set to work in the 1930s. And all these years later, his broad brush strokes are as fresh as ever as the pictures start to take shape.

Les Rendezvous comes complete with men in boaters wooing girls in carefree polka dots, evoking a time of innocence and hopeless optimism… very much the uneasy peace before those storm clouds start to gather across the sea.

It is Europe’s last summer, ablaze with colour and joy, and about to fade into the greyness and misery already starting to unfold.

Company favourites Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao are as visually pleasing as ever, guiding the happy promenaders in the manner of pied pipers leading their followers into the unknown.

But the sun soon disappears behind the clouds in the shape of Dante Sonata, a piece permeated with a great foreboding, designer Anthony Ward’s steps leading us into a future of fear and uncertainty.

This is a battle between good and evil, the former personified by Jenna Roberts, Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay and the latter by Samara Downs and Tyrone Singleton.

The superbly gifted Singleton commands the stage, coming across as the very embodiment of the dark forces that have been unleashed as he stands triumphant over a vanquished Mackay.

In Façade, Ashton uses William Walton’s music to examine the nature of folk and formal dances with tongue planted very firmly in his cheek.

Like all good hops, this one takes a little time to really get going, so we have to wait for the tango paso doble in the capable hands of Celine Gittens and Rory Mackay before the boards really start to smoulder.

Gittens always treats us to great character dancing but on this occasion she really excels as the debutante being courted by a particularly dastardly Mackay.

Darkness and Light runs until Saturday (June 7) at Birmingham Hippodrome.

John Phillpott