The programme opened with Le Spectre de la Rose, first performed in 1911. No one who saw Nijinsky leap through the French windows as the embodiment of the rose the young girl has brought back from the ball ever quite got over it. For 12 minutes, he scarcely seemed to touch the ground as he peopled the air with leaps and pirouettes. Although Nijinsky's was an impossible act to follow, honourable attempts have since been made. Faroukh Ruzimatov's performance is not one of them.
At the first night in Monte Carlo, Leon Bakst wanted to hang a canary's cage from the tall French windows but Nijinsky pointed out that he would bang into it as he flew from the room. Faroukh Ruzimatov's elevation would be no impediment to having a sizeable aviary hanging in the doorway but the canary, along with many other items, is missing from an uncredited design supposedly "based on the original by Leon Bakst". When Veronika Ivanova's insipid heroine enters, you half expect her to look about her in a panic to find that Pickfords called while she was out. Where is her bed? Her chintz sofa? Her drawing table? All the details that establish so perfectly the character of demure maidenhood on the brink of an emotional awakening? Instead, we find a scrappy bit of painted scenery and a purple armchair. This depressing travesty got precisely one curtain-call and it didn't even deserve that.
Warmer applause was reserved for The Dying Swan, the notorious little party piece written for Anna Pavlova in 1905. Uliana Lopatkina, a dancer of exquisite technique and excellent taste, apparently refused to be seen in Isabelle Fokine's "re-staging" of it. On Saturday afternoon, she danced the Russian version and it was the highlight of a very poor programme. I didn't cry but I know people who did.
The programme's first half concluded with the Polovtsian Dances in which male and female corps de ballet enact Fokine's idea of a primitive knees- up with meaty, extravagant savagery. Like so much of the Kirov's repertoire, success depends on a wholehearted belief in the product, and the dancers leap and grimace through this nonsense with such precision and conviction that the audience is persuaded to eat ham and enjoy it.
The Firebird starred Irma Nioradze, who conjured the fluttering strength of the magical fowl with fleet jetes and sure pirouettes. Viktor Baranov was an able but colourless Tsarevich whose thunder was stolen by the ever- excellent Vladimir Ponomarev as the skeletal sorcerer Kostchei - his expressive body can create a character through the thickest mask.
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