Next to the softly curved lines and gentle spring of Ayupova's dancing, Asylmuratova's deliriously happy Aurora strikes a more glitteringly triumphal note. But both women bring a similar confidence and spontaneity to the role, and in both you see a musical, physical and emotional response that is thrillingly complete. Conversely, in Anastasia Volochkova's Lilac Fairy, the maturity and focus which underscores the dancing of Asylmuratova and Ayupova is absent. Volochkova, a pretty young thing who is too statuesque to miss and too talented to ignore, belongs to the Kirov's latest batch of elegant, long-limbed novices. But while her staggeringly high kick and luxuriously pliant body are undeniably impressive, they also reveal a flexibility that, without an accompanying core of strength and more co-ordination, is wasted. Volochkova's face is less expressive than that of Irma Nioradze, but Nioradze's more experienced Lilac Fairy doesn't exhibit the requisite voluptuousness that makes Volochkova's interpretation the more provident.
If there is a problem with the Kirov's Sleeping Beauty it's that Ayupova and Asylmuratova don't really require the help of the four suitors or Prince Desire. Both Ayupova and Asylmuratova present themselves more than adequately - Ayupova with a joy that seems entirely natural; Asylmuratova with her spectacular authority - and it's hard to imagine either princess agreeing to marry any of these goons who proffer roses, admiration and a hand to steady her. Likewise, you wonder what on earth Ayupova and Asylmuratova are expected to desire in their princes, Alexander Kurkov and Viktor Baranov. The kiss marks the end of a century-long slumber and reawakens the Princess's womanhood, but you can't help noticing Aurora's disappointment on finding that the man who planted the kiss on her cheek wears more make-up than she does. Unfortunately Sleeping Beauty is an inducement to write off the Kirov's men. But perhaps it would be premature to do so before the end of the season - I can think of no other company that prompts me to revise my opinions each time I watch it.
n Tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday. Season continues until 12 Aug (Booking: 0171-632 8300)