La Bayadere, Opera House, London

Meagre version of classic saved by the dancing girls
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Half a loaf is better than none. That's the only principle on which I can welcome Natalia Makarova's production of La Bayadère back into the Royal Ballet's programmes. This is among the greatest of the old ballet classics, and whenever Makarova gives us Petipa's choreography straight, it can bring joy to your heart.

But at times she has seriously diminished even those wonderful passages; why did she reduce the beautiful ensemble dances of the ghosts to only 24 women, instead of the 32 who look far more splendid in other stagings, and why did she cut out the fast section from the heroine's solo before she dies, thus robbing the character of contrast and depth.

Moreover, when it comes to spectacle and drama, her version is miserably meagre compared with the Kirov, Bolshoi and Paris Opera productions, and the scene she has added to replace the long-lost last act is too skimpy and muddled; can you take seriously a wedding with no guests, Daddy staring into the distance and a sour-looking priest? Let's hope the new production in St Petersburg will pull that off better.

The corps de ballet did their diminished big number very proficiently, although without much feeling, and there is scope for them to develop more unanimity. They weren't helped by the extremely dreary account of the music under Charles Barker's conducting.

Luckily the opening night brought a good account of the three big roles. Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta are ideally matched as the tragic heroine Nikiya and her lover Solor. Both have marvellously strong, exact technique. That's great but more to the point is the expressiveness with which both use their virtuoso gifts, their responsive playing together and the similar way they phrase movements to music.

Completing the trio of main characters, Marianela Nunez is perhaps not so consistent in her dancing but pretty good for all that, and she too has a clear idea of her role as the Rajah's daughter Gamzatti, who wants Solor for her husband and brings disaster to them all in trying to secure him. Her mixture of smiling pride and sly determination is nicely judged.

These three are among the Royal Ballet's best for many years, and Nikiya is the finest of several new roles for Rojo this season. Acosta looks splendid in Yolanda Sonnabend's sumptuous new costumes but I wish gauze front-cloths did not block the view of the last two acts. And reading comments in the programme about how difficult the corps dancers' entry is, I wonder what they would do with the steeper triple ramps in the more authentic Bolshoi version.