Le Corsaire, Royal Opera House, London

Pirates, passion and wild abandon
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The Independent Culture

Mad, bad and dangerous: Byron knew how to make the pirate hero of The Corsair popular. His poem was a big hit in 1814, although almost unreadable today. And the ballet made from it in Paris in 1856 would not be likely to enjoy its original success if repeated as it was then, a strong melodrama. But over the years it acquired new virtuoso choreography and a wry, comical interpretation. The version of Le Corsaire given by the Kirov Ballet last week is a romp, and great fun.

Don't worry about the story: lovely girls abducted to be sold as slaves, implausibly rescued by the pirates – and then, since we are only halfway through the evening, virtually the same all over again. On the same principle that you can't have too much of a good thing, the spectacular shipwreck at the end now happens at the beginning too, just to get the mood straight away.

So what if the music is a mishmash by at least five composers? It is full of insidiously attractive tunes and exhilaratingly played, with Boris Gruzin conducting the Maryinsky Orchestra. Attributing the choreography just to Marius Petipa (who used to play the title role himself) is a big over-simplification, but so what? The outcome is a non-stop sequence of show-off dances and over-the-top acting.

Ilya Kuznetsov must be feeling half-dead after taking leading roles time and again all week, but he did not let it show at either of the Corsaire performances I saw, leaping about with wild fervour, acting passionately and shaking his long, wild, fair hair to perfection. He was cast with two different heroines, both good.

Svetlana Zakharova, tall and beautiful, has lovely style in the way she uses her arms, head and upper body, and an impressive technique, although I wish she would not scratch her ear with her foot all the time in her balances. She has amazingly fast, secure fouettés. So, too, does Sofia Gumerova in the same role, herjetés almost as long and soaring as Zakharova's, and her manner pleasant.

The slave-dealer Lamkadem is in good hands, with two young dancers taking the part. Dmitry Semionov and Anton Korsakov both dance their solos brilliantly and act with great good humour. Elvira Tarasova, strong but brisk and charmless, seemed to me miscast as the sweetly yielding Gulnara; Irina Zhelonkina came nearer the mark.

I have seen the pirates' wild Forban (complete with pistols and swords) more sharply danced, but Farukh Ruzimatov still finds plenty of personality and swagger for Ali, even if the blander Igor Kolb now shows more virtuosity in the solos. Only Irina Golub does full justice to the odalisques' beautiful solos; but the large corps de ballet in the jardin animé sequence is first-rate, and would be faultless if they (and many soloists) could only stop their noisy toe-tapping. That is something the Kirov Ballet really must deal with for the future.

The Kirov's season continues to 7 July (020-7304 4000)