Diaghilev Festival Coliseum, London

Some ballets are dead, but they won't lie down
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The Independent Culture

If you know anything about perfume, you'll know that the real thing doesn't last.

Even in its original bottle, kept cool in a darkened room, in time its essence is corrupted.

The same is often true of old ballets. You can understand why the director of the Kremlin Ballet might hanker to revive lost gems from the early years of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, Russia having missed out on the whole shebang first time round. But it takes more than a musical score and a rough idea of the original designs to inject life into a 100-year-old phenomenon, as demonstrated by the week-long Diaghilev season first seen in Moscow, now at London's Coliseum. Three programmes each pair one well-known piece, such as The Firebird (pictured right) or Shéhérazade, with a forgotten one – filling the blanks with new steps.

But there is a good reason why The Blue God and Thamar, both originally with choreography by Fokine, dropped into obscurity once the Ballets Russes disbanded in 1929. Their success had depended on their stars: Nijinsky in the first, the exquisite Tamara Karsavina in the second, as a lethal Queen of the Caucasus who slays those she seduces. Without that myth-making charisma, the choreography has more to prove.

And, dear me, Thamar struggled. One shudders to think what expletive Diaghilev might have used for Georgian choreographer Jurijus Smoriginas's efforts – surely something more inventive than this caricature of eroticism. The interminable leg-lifts-to-the-ear are bad enough, but the bum wiggling takes ballet to a rare level of crassness. Despite the irritations of Irma Nioradze's stretched facial expressions and her purple leopard-print miniskirt, she demanded your sympathy, stuck with this duff material.

The enterprise had some value in exposing Balakirev's orientalist score, with its melismatic solo overture played on – I think – bass clarinet pitched fearsomely high, a presage of the opening bassoon in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring which appeared the following year. But surely the original Bakst designs were neither so lurid nor hi-tech, a kingsize bedsheet creating a billowing Georgian mountainscape with fluorescent green edges.

The company looked altogether happier on familiar ground. Shéhér-azade has always been ludicrous, the ballet equivalent of Carry On Up the Harem, but the dancers gave it their all, including a podgy Nikolai Tsiskaridze as the Golden Slave and a slinky Ilze Liepa as Zobeide.

Final programme today (0871 911 0200)

Next Week:

Jenny Gilbert looks for holiday fun with the company Chouf Ouchouf, beach acrobats from Morocco

Dance Box

Direct from Buenos Aires comes Flames of Desire a trawl through the history of Argentine tango from the company Tango Fire. London's Peacock Theatre till Sat, and touring. Meanwhile, Alice is proving a hit for Scottish Ballet with its decidedly non-cute take on Lewis Carroll's classic story. Edinburgh's Festival Theatre Wed to Sat, then touring.