Sophie Constanti laments a lacklustre showing from the Kirov Ballet, redeemed only by a stunning performance by Altynai Asylmuratova

dance Le Corsaire, Coliseum
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The Independent Culture
Watching the Kirov Ballet in a work like Le Corsaire is akin to seeing the Bolshoi do Spartacus for the umpteenth time: a horribly vivid reminder of the tired, institutionalised repertoire of one of the world's finest - but not faultless - ballet companies. For too long, the British have been suckers for ballet productions which would be laughed off the stage had they been presented by non-Russians. Indeed, one of the most common traits of Kirov or Bolshoi balletomania is the inability to look beyond the dancing to what is being danced. A great dancer can often transcend dreadful choreography, but the Kirov is no longer filled with enough great dancers to make you oblivious to the choreographic waffle which accounts for 95 per cent of Le Corsaire - Joseph Mazilier's much-revised slice of Greco-Turkish exotica which was first performed in 1856 at the Paris Opera.

Both the work's opening scene of a boat rocking violently on stormy seas (courtesy of lots of billowing fabric), and the closing tableau of the happy crew sailing off into an agitated sunset, are as eye-catchingly corny today as they were startlingly innovative when Jules Perrot presented Corsaire in St Petersburg. Bringing both animated spriteliness and genuine allure to the central but unsubstantial role of Medora, Altynai Asylmuratova showed you a Kirov style which has been all but lost. A crystal-cut ballerina sparkling effortlessly against the work's over-emphatic yet half-hearted frenzy of slave-trading and repeated capture and escape, Asylmuratova just about manages to turn Le Corsaire into a bearable night out. But this story of the trials and fortunes of the ship-wrecked pirate, Conrad, is little more than an excuse for macho posturing, a continuous parade of Mediterranean delights and for stage sets in which a plethora of deep- frosted hues tells us more about the colour combinations favoured by Soviet designers than of the true light and shade of the Ionian coast. And, as in La Bayadere, heading East means there's no shortage of pantaloons and exposed midriffs.

But in Petipa's additional 1868 choreography - specifically, his Le Jardin Anime set to music by Delibes (the ballet's score also features Adam, Pugni, Drigo and Prince Oldenburg) - there is a sudden shift from dross to brilliance. Like the Prologue variations for the fairies in Sleeping Beauty, the solos for a trio of odalisques are marvels of invention, full of crisp detail harnessed in long, limpid phrases of dance.

Musicality isn't a prominent characteristic of Kirov dancing nowadays, and although the solid vigour with which Viktor Fedotov conducts the Maryinsky's orchestra finds its dance response in the busy, slave-market shenanigans of Act I, Fedotov makes too many concessions to the changes of tempo pushed by individuals. As Conrad, Konstantin Zaklinsky is a merely handsome, compatible male bulk to Asylmuratova's sensuously feminine Medora. And while Farouk Ruzimatov is all smouldering, campy prowess as Ali, Viacheslav Samodurov proved a likeable rogue as Lankadem, the supplier of lissom lovelies to Seid Pasha's harem.

St Martin's Lane, London, WC2; 'Le Corsaire' will be performed on 4 and 5 Aug (Box Office: 0171-632 8300); season to 12 Aug

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