DANCE : Duet for two soloists

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OLD ballets never die, they simply get revived. La Bayadere is a very old ballet. First produced by Petipa in 1877, it is often assumed that the work is a museum piece and that the modern audience will merely tolerate it as a high-camp curiosity. Look at the scenario, and this doesn't seem unreasonable: an Indian warrior loves a temple dancer, but jilts her for the Rajah's daughter. On a bad night the whole exercise becomes a bizarre object-lesson in the embalmer's art; on a good night, performers can cut straight through the greasepaint to the core of the tragedy. Monday wasn't a good night.

Even with a company of the Kirov's calibre, casting is all. The stage blazes with talent both individually and collectively, but principal dancers can still make or break a show. A few visits ago in 1990, first nights you got Asylmuratova, second nights you got Pankova. No one was ever heard to complain. Five years later, Asylmuratova seems relegated to the matinees and the first nights are all awarded to Yulia Makhalina. She's impossibly beautiful, she has the lean-burn ballet body of the 1990s and she can do what she likes with it, but the net effect is remarkable rather than adorable.

Her partner on Monday was Farouk Ruzimatov. Eight years ago, Ruzimatov had a slow-motion jump and a sinuous spine that thrilled the blood. Now it's a slightly different story.His laboured partnering seems designed to make Makhalina's balance appear unreliable. Worse still, his acting remains perfunctory. Solor only works as a character if he appears to be an incurable satyr with the memory span of a randy rabbit. When the Rajah unveils his daughter's beauty, Solor should react with a mime he can feel in his hip pocket - but instead of burning with lust, Ruzimatov just looks uncomfortable, suggesting that Solor betrays the love of his life from mere embarrassment. Ruzimatov is in love, but it isn't with a temple dancer: as far as he is concerned, by far the most attractive person on the stage is 32 years old, about 5ft 9in and wearing turquoise silk pyjamas. This was not the man to galvanise the lovely Makhalina.

In Swan Lake, she got a potentially more sympathetic partner. Konstantin Zaklinsky is the epitome of the balletic hero: classically pure in style, unselfish in stagecraft and wholehearted in performance. Surely this God in Tights would bring the beautiful Makhalina to life? Not as such. Not only did he fail to arouse an answering spark in her acting, she must have managed the pas de deux by touch alone, because she didn't look at him once. Any eyeplay is strictly between Makhalina and her public.

Makhalina's perfections may be a little chilly, but perfection is what you expect from the Kirov corps de ballet, which presents the transcendent ballets blancs with an idealised grace in which every thigh, every instep, every finger is aligned with mathematical exactness. Although the chorus is thinner and younger than it used to be, it retains its legendary ability to create shapes as orderly as a battalion yet as natural as a shoal of fish.

The Kirov: Coliseum, WC2 (0171 632 8300), to 12 Aug. Asylmuratova will dance 'Swan Lake' on Tues.