Cipollino, London Coliseum, London

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The Independent Culture

A ballet for children, Cipollino tells the story of a heroic young onion resisting the fruit aristocracy. Yes, really. As you might have guessed, it was created in Soviet Russia.

It's a slight but cheerful work, which the Mikhailovsky Ballet dance with plenty of bounce.

The ballet is based on a fairy tale by Gianni Rodari, by way of a Russian animated film. The composer, Karen Khachaturian, having written music for the cartoon, was so fond of Rodari's characters that he went on to write a ballet, first staged in 1973.

The vegetable proletariat are happy in the sunshine until Prince Lemon threatens to make them pay for it. As the people express their dismay, Cipollino accidentally steps on Prince Lemon's foot. In revenge, his father is arrested. After a few subplots, the oppressive Lemon and his sidekick Signor Tomato are overcome, letting everyone else live happily ever after.

Genrikh Mayorov's choreography has big, simple outlines with some virtuoso steps. He has fun with the details of his scenario. In one scene, the villagers build a house, with dancers becoming wheelbarrows to carry the bricks. Tomato gets some moustache-twirling villainy, which Aleksandr Omar dances with gusto. Prince Lemon has an honour guard of girls in yellow.

As Cipollino, Aleksei Kuznezov jumps and spins with determination, but could do with more brio. He's also stuck with the pudding-basin haircut of Soviet comedy heroes. The exuberant Sabina Yapparova plays his girlfriend, Radish, sailing through her steps with a wink at the audience. Irina Kosheleva dances serenely as the fairy figure Magnolia.

Valery Leventhal's designs are a strong point, with colourful costumes and charming scenery. One scene shows a red-roofed Italian town, in distorted perspective, surrounded by patchwork-quilt fields. Delightfully, it looks like something Dora Carrington might have painted after eating a lot of E-numbers.