DANCE La Bayadere Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture
Miyako Yoshida's back injury has deprived her fans of a long-awaited debut as the hapless Nikiya in the Royal Ballet's La Bayadere but has provided Covent Garden with two world-class substitutes: the Kirov's Altynai Asylmuratova (who made an unscheduled appearance during the Opera House's Paul Hamlyn Week) and American Ballet Theatre's Susan Jaffe who made her Royal Ballet debut on Wednesday.

Jaffe, who has often guested with English National Ballet, is an experienced traveller and coped beautifully with the challenge of dancing with an unknown partner in unfamiliar surroundings. Makarova's version of La Bayadere was first staged by American Ballet Theatre so the production was a home from home. Her partner was Irek Mukhamedov. All too often, the faithless Solor is portrayed as an absent-minded tart who switches his affections as readily as he changes his tights. Mukhamedov's performance has an immediacy that acts the harem pants off everyone else on stage: "Let's run away together now," he says, with a mime you could have read at the back of the amphitheatre. Unfortunately, his dancing is not always of this standard. During the first act he seemed barely to mark the steps and I began to harbour sacrilegious thoughts that perhaps the former Bolshoi heart-throb should think about jacking in the heroic roles and opt instead for the High Brahmins, Tybalts and Hilarions of the ballet world. As it turned out, he had been saving himself for the second act, where he demonstrated that there was some life in the old dog yet.

Although their partnership was inevitably tentative, Jaffe and Mukhamedov did their best to re-animate the flat white flesh of Makarova's La Bayadere but the Promethean task was too much even for them. Flashes of fine dancing from Justin Meissner (as the Head Fakir) and Sarah Wildor (as one of the three Shades) were not enough to spark this lovely ballet into life. A work of this vintage cries out for the grand manner which is missing from the production for all Pier Luigi Samaritani's sumptuous scenery. Petipa's vision of the Indies conjured a world where the common man walks as if summary execution were a distinct possibility and the aristocracy walks as if deciding who should be next. The Royal Ballet's dancers are beautifully dressed, they go to the nicest places but they have no idea how to behave - as if the whole company had ideas above its station.

In rep at the ROH, London WC2 to 10 April. Booking: 0171-304 4000