When Scottish Ballet take to the stage at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, next week, alongside the dark drama of Christopher Hampson's Rite Of Spring, will be a frisky serving of the old razzle-dazzle in the shape of Kenneth MacMillan's Elite Syncopations.

Ever since its Royal Ballet premiere in 1974, this sassy romp to ragtime - with Scott Joplin's music an integral part of the score - has been a hit wherever it has shimmied, high-kicked and pranced. Julie Lincoln, a former Royal Ballet dancer who now stages Elite Syncopations and other MacMillan works on companies worldwide, sums it up crisply by saying "it's fun."

She then explains that the one-act ballet owes its existence to the film They Shoot Horses, Don't They? which depicted the desperate competitiveness of America's Depression-era dance marathons.

"Kenneth didn't want to focus on the sad, despairing side of it," she continues. "But he wanted to make a piece that had that competition feel to it. Elite Syncopations has these very human characters in it who are all trying to out-do everyone else. They know - and the audience sees - that all the others are watching from the sidelines, so they dance their individual numbers as much to impress them as us.

"Even when Kenneth's ballets did not have a linear narrative in them, you always got recognisably human situations and stories, so in Elite Syncopations, you know who is the shy girl, who is the show-off, who has all the suitors. If it is done well, you get drawn in to their little stories, and you laugh because it is deliberately funny but you feel sympathies for them as well."

And if it is not done well? "Oh, then it just becomes comic, and no matter how good the technique is, it is not how Kenneth intended." The brisk tone of voice makes it clear: anyone lucky enough to be coached by Lincoln, will get every last little hand-flick, every little flirty glance, every proud strut and shoulder-roll just so.

Christopher Hampson, Scottish Ballet's artistic director, can vouch for Lincoln's illuminating attention to detail. Elite Syncopations was his Royal Ballet school graduation piece and Lincoln, often accompanied by MacMillan himself, was the ballet mistress who made sure the humour was not over-egged or the steps out of time with the rags that are played live on-stage.

It was the music that prompted Hampson to bring Elite Syncopations into a double bill with Rite Of Spring. "I just love the fact Joplin was around at the same time as Stravinsky," he says, "and that the music for these two pieces co-existed in the early years of the 20th century.

"Putting them together is, I hope, adding up to a really strong double bill. After the intensity of Rite - which was part of our recent Dance Odysseys programme at the Festival, and is quite brutal - Elite Syncopations is just a wonderful, mad explosion of dance. The costumes are bonkers. Actually, they are quite rude, with all those strategically placed stars and stripes painted on the Lycra, but they are all part of the fun. It really is a brilliantly entertaining ballet."

It is not just dancers on stage, however. The band, led by company pianist Brian Prentice, is powering out those ragtime melodies in full view of the audience - and in costume.

"We did get a lot of teasing about having to get Lycra unitards fitted," says Prentice, "but we are actually wearing shirts, trousers, waistcoats, bow ties - all very colourful, but not at all revealing. In fact, I am wearing braces because my trousers are too big."

If having a live band adds visual interest to the staging, there is a seriously practical side to the arrangement: it means Prentice can keep an eye on the dancers.

He explains that "different dancers can lead to orchestras playing music at different tempos - you can be in the pit, not see who is on stage, but know who is dancing because of the tempo. With ragtime, you have to watch it does not run away with itself, or chop and change. The dancers have to be able to fit a lot of steps into each bar, so you can't skip a bit or add a bit, because you will send everything out of synch right away. It is my job to keep everything under control. No, my costume doesn't include a whip, but I do have a hat with sparkly bits!"

Prentice is right: there are a fiendish lot of steps that have to be in split-second accord with the humours of the music. Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Jamiel Laurence probably speak for everyone when they talk about the challenges of pitching the comedy at just the right level. "It's quite a contrast to how we usually perform," says Kingsley-Garner. "Instead of performing 'out' - directing everything to the audience - we have had to focus on bouncing off each other's character. My character, in Calliope Rag, really wants everyone to watch her. She definitely has an inner crazy in her that just has to come out, be centre of attention at the end of her solo.

"That only works if you are trying to get the attention of the people on stage - although, my costume does have arrows pointing to my bum - and you can't really miss them."

Laurence, meanwhile, finds himself following in the steps of Wayne Sleep as the geeky little guy who partners up with a very tall girl. "It takes me back to when I was 15 and 4ft 7ins, and there were girls at school I had no hope of dancing with," he says. "I have spent all this time trying to pull myself up - be taller, stronger - and now I have had to go back to struggling to find a partner."

If Elite Syncopations sees him flexing his comedic muscles, the dancer's dramatic side will surface in Rite Of Spring and in A Streetcar Named Desire, which is heading for New Orleans and an American tour at the start of next month.

Scottish Ballet perform Rite Of Spring and Elite Syncopations at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, September 26-28.