DANCE / Inspiration at the Kirov shrine

THE Kirov Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty has a character no other company is able to cast - the soul of the choreographer. Marius Petipa created the work for the company in 1890, nearly exhausting himself in the process, and on Thursday entered the production not as a fussing or clucking taskmaster but as a serene presence. From the prologue for the fairies to the final grand pas de deux, he was there in the astonishing variety of steps, the magical atmosphere and the purity of the Kirov style. A hundred years on, the Kirov remains the custodian of this great climax of 19th-century ballet.

Although a rather eccentric production with a musical interlude and three intervals, The Sleeping Beauty has the rich authenticity of the Swan Lake and Bayadere that the Kirov has already performed in its London season. Larissa Lezhnina is a radiant and youthful Princess Aurora with a bounce that lets on she's the type to go out and have fun with the courtiers instead of being closeted in the throne room like a china doll. Speeding through her turns in Act II, slowing later to luxuriate in the beauty of a solo, she brought that rare hush to a transfixed audience. And she sailed through the Rose Adagio, in which, one by one, the four suitors catch her hand after a series of difficult balances, showing what a smooth operator she is.

Faroukh Ruzimatov as the Prince has such an electrifying aura he can build drama into a simple walk across the stage. With his hot Georgian temperament he is one of the great characters of the ballet: a Cavalier, a mischievous boy, a smouldering Valentino, a defiant Jagger, with a technique to rival Nureyev's. He's so wonderful to watch and so adored by audiences, you forgive him his feigned earnestness and impulse to camp up a role, as he did with Ali in Le Corsaire.

It's almost impossible to figure out the plot of Le Corsaire, but with its bustling flamboyance and colour it hardly matters. The surprises are Makhalina as Medora, the Greek girl sold to slavery, and Alexander Kurkov as Conrad. She was an icy Swan Queen, but here she sizzles in her scenes with Conrad. Kurkov tried to hide in Swan Lake, but his technical display in Le Corsaire is so dazzling that perhaps he's trying to tell his boss he prefers playing pirates to naff princes.

The Kirov has been described as a shrine for classic dance and a source of inspiration. This is still the case: the company has certainly lived up to its hype as the greatest classical ballet company in the world. It has been renewing its repertory and I hope next time we will see some of the newer works.

The English National Ballet re-opened the Savoy Theatre in London this week with a triple bill including Savoy Suite, a special commission for Wayne Sleep to mark the occasion. From the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, it interweaves references from the Savoy operas so that three little maids add a piquancy to the gondolier larks. Sleep has returned to ballet after a long absence and could so easily have fallen on his face, as a choreographer and dancer. But he is in great shape as a dancer, and never let his choreographic ambitions overreach themselves, so the piece is finely judged, witty and entertaining and frothed with the feel of a Broadway review.

The Seven Silences of Salome, a work for seven men by Portugal's Olga Roriz, is divinely shocking: it is brutally physical but also vigorously contemporary, not the sort of piece one expects from the ENB. The men, with bare chests, line up at the front of the stage, working their way upstage to pose like men drawn from gay iconography. They are masculine men with small waists and gleaming skin. One by one, they put layered grunge skirts over their trousers for their solos. Are they men or are they women? Each seems cursed by his transsexuality, urgently trying to purge himself by rocketing around, tearing at face and chest, willing a less confused state of being. The piece is set to pounding drums and clashing cymbals under red velvet lighting so that the atmosphere reeks of maleness, a significant achievement from a woman choreographer and a welcome addition to a predictable repertory.

'Sleeping Beauty', tomorrow; 'Le Corsaire', Fri & Sat, Coliseum, 071-836 3161.

(Photographs omitted)

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