Kirov Ballet: Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

The heroine is an enchanted princess, turned into a swan by a wicked magician; only love can rescue her. Lopatkina's look of angst suggests no vulnerability, and no tenderness. Her Swan Lake is near-abstract, concerned with dance detail rather than drama. Yet this isn't lavish dancing. Her arms wind and pull, working against the curve of her spine. Those elaborately long phrases don't flow.

This is a high-handed performance. Throughout the ballet, Lopatkina demands changes of tempo. Poor Tchaikovsky: the conductor Alexander Polianichko kept slowing the orchestra so that she could dwell on a phrase. She pays little attention to her prince. Playing Odile, the heroine's wicked double, she vamps him without really noticing him. Her hard detachment might have suited Odile, but it isn't dramatically inflected. She's like that in both halves of the double role. As her Prince, Daniil Korsuntsev dances tidily and partners securely, but without much impact.

On opening night, then, this Swan Lake made lukewarm drama. But the production has a handsome sense of scale. Igor Ivanov's first-act set looks like a tinted engraving, a fairy-tale illustrated with confident precision. The Kirov text has twiddly Soviet additions, including an intrusive Jester and a happy ending.

The best dancing came from Anton Korsakov in the first-act pas de trois, part of the hero's birthday celebrations. Korsakov dances with easy warmth. His jumps are softly phrased, with poses unfolding beautifully mid-air.

The corps de ballet dance with attention and a shared sense of style. On their first entrance, every swan jumps with her leg in the same rather low arabesque line. In the dance that follows, those arabesques open, becoming more expansive and free. Yet these swans have little dramatic intensity. They're at their most academic in the last act, when Ivanov's choreography builds wave upon sorrowing wave.

Kirov season runs until 30 July (020-7304 4000)

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