Mixed Bill Royal Opera House
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The Independent Culture
Gasps of astonishment and giggles of delight greeted the divertissements that formed the core of the Royal Ballet's latest mixed bill on Thursday. The fun started after the interval when Sylvie Guillem, sporting black lace, short red wig and a smile as wide as the Seine presented Gsovsky's 1949 Grand Pas Classique. The ballerina's saucy virtuosity made short work of the freeze-frame balances and split-second timing. When Guillem first appeared in this brash piece at Covent Garden in 1988 she was a new phenomenon and her unlikely extensions and confrontational manner shook the house. This audience is always ready to welcome guests particularly if the words ''Kirov'' and ''New York'' appear on their CV. Igor Zelensky's entrance in Balanchine's Tchaikovsky pas de deux was greeted with anticipatory applause and the excitement was fully justified. A tall man, he makes the rangy Darcey Bussell look positively dainty and he partnered her with loving care through the terrifying fish dives. His own solo was sublime, not only for its breathtaking ballon but also for the clean detail of his technique. Bussell also gave a strong performance but the enthusiasm was for the new toy - an unusual experience for Bussell who is normally partnered by Jonathan Cope (for all his many strengths nobody could ever accuse Cope of upstaging anybody).

The weak point was a last-minute programme change. The Talisman proved unperformable as the orchestral parts had failed to materialise from Russia. Rather than replacing it with another party piece, Anthony Dowell opted unaccountably for the sombre farewell pas de deux from MacMillan's Winter Dreams. Irek Mukhamedov partnered Viviana Durante, who danced with her usual careful brilliance, but the piece seemed out of place.

It's a long time since anyone danced the Corsaire pas de deux at Covent Garden. The showy nature of the piece, its ubiquity on the competition circuit and the long shadow of Nureyev all mitigate against its selection. However, box-office is box-office and the Kirov's frequent visits have given audiences a taste for its limelit glamour. Danced well, the pas de deux is a distillation of the ballet's exotic plot and Conrad's virtuosity becomes a physical expression of his love for Medora; danced by Tetsuya Kumakawa, it becomes a sort of glorified Olympic floor exercise. His account of many of the steps was sensational; unfortunately he neglects to remember that he is in a pas de deux. On Tuesday night in Swan Lake he had pulled off the extraordinary feat of dancing the entire Neapolitan Dance without once looking at Nicola Roberts, having eyes only for his public. Miyako Yoshida, despite a lavish sprinkling of doubles pirouettes in her fouettes, suffered a similar fate on Thursday. Kumakawa's bad manners were less in evidence in Forsythe's Herman Schmerman. Deprived of the normal ballet etiquette of pause-and-applause, his technical facility is put at the service of the ensemble and is never allowed to stop the show. Anyway, we weren't looking at him. We were transfixed by Forsythe, by the wit and wizardry of this gruelling piece of deconstruction and by the sight of Sylvie Guillem in a see-through blouse.

Last performance, Monday: 0171-304 4000