First Night: Darcey Bussell & Igor Zelensky, Sadler's Wells, London

The steps of ballet's biggest names prove so smooth they fall flat
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For such a starry evening, this was weirdly dull. Here are two of ballet's biggest names, leading dancers with the Royal Ballet and the Kirov. Yet their technical strengths have little impact, lost in a night of stodgy programming. New works fall flat, while Roland Petit's "Le jeune homme et la mort" looks foolishly dated.

Both dancers have arranged this kind of programme before, so they should know how to do it. Yet pacing is bad throughout. The audience is still rustling programmes when the curtain goes up on Alastair Marriott's "Kiss". Darcey Bussell's first appearance - posed in a spotlight, back to the audience - comes as an anticlimax. And things don't get much better. "Kiss" proves to be an inconclusive duet, danced to music by Samuel Barber. Bussell, in an unpleasantly shiny leotard designed by Adam Wiltshire, bends and reaches in the light. She's joined by William Trevitt, who circles her or lifts her by her thighs, his manner detached. Bussell, who has been dancing gloriously this season, is almost anonymous in Marriott's work. Even when she kisses Trevitt he barely notices.

Then we get Igor Zelensky in "Concerto Grosso", an interminable solo by Alla Sigalova. The curtain goes up on a second curtain falling. Zelensky, in black trousers and woolly hat, flexes a knee or spins through many, many turns. He swings his arms as if to bow, or stands glaring as rows of spotlights are lowered to the stage. Clearly, this is a man alone with his soul and his lighting equipment. I suspect a metaphor about Life as Theatre. Bussell and Zelensky dance together in "Le jeune homme et la mort". Petit's lurid ballet, made in 1946, shows a bohemian young man hanging himself after a quarrel with his girlfriend. She returns as a figure of death, leading him over the rooftops of Paris. There's plenty of sensationalism in theme and treatment, but this was a pallid performance. On film, Baryshnikov and Nureyev make something of the Young Man, moving explosively through the twisting jumps. Zelensky is blank and cautious, without energy or attack. Even when he throws the furniture about, there's no violence to him.

Bussell does better, getting some force into her dancing. But she can't make the domineering girlfriend cool or cruel enough. The little turns of the head look silly, her slaps at the table no better than conscientious. The stars are supported by dancers from the Siberian National Ballet of Novosibirsk, which recently appointed Zelensky as its director. Edwaard Liang's "Whispers in the Dark" is an all-purpose modern ballet. Three sleek couples wind about each other to music by Philip Glass. The dancers are smooth, the steps lacking character.

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