DANCE / Pick and mix: Louise Levene weighs up the Bolshoi

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The Independent Culture
THE Bolshoi is in its third week at the Albert Hall - the critical flak is becoming a memory, the bizarre sightlines are becoming familiar and the dancers are settling down. Who and what should you see?

Raymonda Act II, Swan Lake Act III and Spartacus must surely be the best collection of suites on offer. No British company could carry off Raymonda with such shameless camp, Swan Lake provides a useful showcase for new talent and Spartacus is Yuri Grigorovich at his considerable best. Avoid The Stone Flower programme. The suite makes gibberish of the story, the costume designs plumb new depths of ugliness and the choreography for the peasant community is laughable.

The only compensations were Maria Bylova hitting the back of her head with her shapely foot in a flashy sequence of jetes and Gedeminas Taranda and Julia Malkhasiants on fine and jolly form as the gypsy couple.

Within his cruelly limited range the 31-year-old Taranda is one of the company's greatest dancers, but could this creature from the Grigorovich hothouse survive in the wild? Siegfried he ain't, and the heavies of Western ballet would hardly make full use of his extraordinary flair for athletic melodrama. Those big bad roles - the Cagneys and Rathbones of dance - simply don't exist outside the Bolshoi repertoire.

In Raymonda he dances the predatory Abderakhman in this gloriously nonsensical warhorse about Saracens and crusaders. One can't but laugh as a nodding octet of befezzed females clap brightly centre-stage, while Taranda encircles them with a demented sequence of leaps. Here is a ballet crying out for surtitles - 'Take that you saracen dog]' perhaps. The pas de deux is vapid in comparison. Spartacus is hokum of a higher order and Grigorovich's epic doesn't suffer too badly from its abridgement. The 22-year-old Yuri Klevtsov makes a handsome and expressive Spartacus, but he is up against some tough competition: the memory of Mukhamedov in the role that sold him to the West. Klevtsov hasn't quite the dramatic or physical power to pull it off and the slave leader is better danced by Yuri Vasyuchenko (now sporting a more subtle ash-blond tint). Frigia was the 25-year-old Inna Petrova, who is a worthy successor to Maximova and Bessmertnova.

Casting is critical. Hit a bad night and you could be stuck with a sterile virtuoso display. Strike lucky and you will be charmed and surprised. Andrei Uvarov and Nadezhda Gracheva are a perfect pair: he has a slow motion jump and she has a steely but understated technique - always very appealing to British tastes. In Swan Lake Act III she delights in deceiving Siegfried with the bashful beakiness that suggests the bird he really loves. Uvarov is hardly muscle-bound, yet there wasn't the slightest change in his light tread as he lifted Odile above his head in mid-stride. Thrilled at winning Odile he dances for joy, his effortless ballon holding him clear of the stage on the purest natural high.