DANCE / Temple of love and death

IN THE MOMENTS before she dies Yulia Makhalina, as Nikiya, stirs the soul with her anguish atlosing her love to another. An exotic sphinx in claret harem pants and veil, her vigorous and coolly spacious dancing serves to enhance her mystique so that you feel it bitterly unfair that such a divine creature should not get whatever she wants - or in this case, whomever she wants.

The Kirov Ballet's production of La Bayadere is glamorous and spectacular. Evocative new sets and costumes (with more bare midriffs than Bondi beach) infuse Petipa's 1877 ballet, and the dancers themselves, with a fresh excitement. After a gentle start, the rivalry over Solor between Makhalina's temple dancer and Olga Chenchikova's Gamzatti reaches such a pitch that they become silent movie stars with murder in their hearts, but the histrionics are never excessive. Chenchikova is the embodiment of the Kirov style, tossing her fouettes with ease, and, even when sitting at a table with her father, the straight slant of her back and the angle of her head are eloquently classical.

Konstantin Zaklinsky, as the much-desired Solor, has more golden charm than proves to be good for him, but on Thursday he never managed to catch fire. Notwithstanding, his dream of meeting Nikiya in the Kingdom of the Shades leads to the famous final act, which is Petipa's masterpiece. Thirty-two members of the corps de ballet, ghosts of bayaderes - the temple dancers - flow down a ramp, pausing every now and again to bend forward, stretching out a leg and an arm. In their white tutus and chiffon shawls, they are wispy clouds pinned to a cliff face.

There is a rich authenticity in this act, as in the lakeside scenes in Swan Lake, where the corps is cohesive and organic, breathing as one, curving torsos, tilting heads and lifting legs in the sort of unison that provides the deep satisfaction of knowing this is how it ought to be danced.

The Kirov's production of the Petipa/Ivanov Swan Lake has a remarkable simplicity, with a large space left clear for the dancing. Makhalina's Odette is strangely eerie: she is more Snow Queen than Swan Queen, her ice never melting into vulnerability, let alone passion for Siegfried. We can hardly blame her. Alexander Kurkov is virtually absent, a peculiarly invisible bulk. Indeed, this seems his preferred mode. In his solo in the Black Act, he freezes in mid-step as though suddenly realising all eyes are on him, and then appears to give up, scuttling to a corner to hide. Makhalina probably adds to his discomfort by at last becoming human - oddly, not as the sly temptress, but as a smiling coquette hoping to share her ice- cream cone. Makhalina has an intensely dramatic quality which unfortunately leads to distortion: a leg, for example, brushes past an ear instead of stopping at the shoulder, but this may reflect the trend towards athleticism.

Wednesday's mixed bill, including Balanchine's Scotch Symphony and three mid-19th century pieces, filled me with pleasure, especially Vinogradov's Adagio, a stark, primeval and almost impossibly intricate piece in which Makhalina and Zaklinsky shine.

'Swan Lake', Coliseum, 071-836 3161, 27 to 29 July.

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