A dramatic revelation from the corps de ballet

Kirov Ballet | Royal Opera House, London
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Resplendent in a bejewelled ice-blue gown, the Queen Mother concluded her birthday at the Kirov Ballet and almost out-dazzled the luxurious kaleidoscope of costume and decor on stage. The Kirov Orchestra played its Prokofiev-Weber-Borodin scores sublimely under Alexander Titov, followed by the surprise appearance of Kirov supremo Valery Gergiev to conduct the final item, Scheherazade.

Resplendent in a bejewelled ice-blue gown, the Queen Mother concluded her birthday at the Kirov Ballet and almost out-dazzled the luxurious kaleidoscope of costume and decor on stage. The Kirov Orchestra played its Prokofiev-Weber-Borodin scores sublimely under Alexander Titov, followed by the surprise appearance of Kirov supremo Valery Gergiev to conduct the final item, Scheherazade.

Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite swelled and surged like a heart bursting, a sonorous drama that needed no accompaniment other than Bakst's fabulous frontcloth. There, in a mountainous landscape, a hunted deer flees hounds and horsemen while other deer look on. If only the dance merited such musical and painterly glory. The ballets Fokine created in his youth had innovation and daring. Their titles - linked with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and including some of Nijinsky's most famous roles - have become legendary, but the Kirov's versions did little to tell us why. What emerged instead was tacky dance, unworthy of this great company, and perhaps they knew it.

Even Diaghilev came to regard Scheherazade 's harem-orgy as ludicrous, but at least it then had Nijinsky, whose sensuality and sheer abandon are still evident in extraordinary photographs. Nor was it saddled with the numbingly endless pas de deux that Fokine misguidedly added later. Farouk Ruzimatov, sprinkled in gold glitter, gave full throttle to his flaring nostrils and pouts, while Altynai Asylmuratova was as exquisite as always. But it is a profoundly depressing thought that audiences, blinded by the exoticism and Bakst's glowing colours, consider this ballet a high point.

The Kirov's re-staging of Petrushka, already presented (like Scheherazade) in the company's earlier run a few weeks ago, relies on a dubious recollection of Fokine's original, very different from what we know. Their production of the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor, though, is authentic, given that Fokine created this specifically for them. But it needs more fire to avoid appearing like more tawdry tosh.

Also looking its age is Le Spectre de la rose, the ballet in which Nijinsky hovered and skimmed and left an indelible impression on all those who saw him. More than any Fokine ballet it depends on the rightness of the performer, and with the splendid miscasting of Igor Kolb, its perfume truly evaporated. Kolb is one of the company's young talents, but because first-night casts of programmes tend to focus on the small handful of stars, reviewers rarely get to see newcomers.

Thank heavens, then, for injuries, even if they temporarily remove dancers as stunning as Uliana Lopatkina. Her replacement as Swan Lake's Odette-Odile was Sofia Gumerova, still a member of the corps de ballet. Tallish, with beautiful tapering legs, she had performed Odette-Odile just once before in St Petersburg, but in London had to do the same day's matinee and evening performances - daunting by any standards.

Yet, partnered in the evening by Igor Zelensky, she was a revelation. Either she has been superbly coached or she has a miraculous innate artistry, because unlike other novice Odettes as soon as she leapt on stage she asserted an individual portrayal, full of subtly gauged feeling. Her arms registered the lurches of her emotions, now like violent beating wings in the throes of intense alarm, now supplicatory and as soft and fragile as swansdown. The music's inflections passed like sobs through her body - if ever a woman was like a violin, this was it.

* The Kirov season to 19 Aug, 020-7304 4000

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