Kirov Ballet, Royal Opera House, London

Potent, perfect, Russian
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The Independent Culture

After almost two decades of performing Balanchine they have become old hands. They can truly claim him as their own, which technically he is, given that he graduated from the Kirov's ballet school, before emigrating from post-revolutionary Russia. Ballet Imperial, which closed their Balanchine triple bill, looks back to Imperial Russia, its grand sweeping contours matching the massive chords of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2. It demands huge and virtuoso dancing, which of course the Kirov delivers, led by Igor Kolb, who has perfect lines, amplitude, power - perfect everything.

In Prodigal Son Mikhail Lobukhin brought out the full dramatic meaning of the movement, set to Prokofiev's score. Exploited by the Siren's sinuous charms (long-limbed Ekatrina Kondaurova), robbed and broken, his return into his father's outstretched arms was heart-wrenching. Just as potent, but very different, is La Valse, ballroom couples waltzing recklessly on the edge of doom to the swell of Ravel's music. The closing twist, where the Death figure of Islom Baimuradov claims Daria Pavlenko, is icily shocking.

Next down from Balanchine in ballet's genealogy is William Forsythe, whose work is performed by companies round the world - and, since last year, by the Kirov. Forsythe's deconstructions of Balanchinian geometries, his hyperextensions and full-on energy have to be learnt, but the Kirov is getting there. Curiously, on their Forsythe programme, it was the most traditionally classical piece, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, that came off the least successfully. The cast needed more speed, more sharpness in their phrasing. But the series of duets of Approximate Sonata built fascinating contrasts, Daria Pavlenko streaked in scarlet splendour through Steptext, and In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated (pictured) closed the evening in a blaze, as it should.

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