Le Corsaire, Royal Opera House, London

Fine dancing but little drama from a company at less than its best
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The Independent Culture

Here's one of the world's best ballet companies back in London, from the renowned Maryinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, although for some odd reason it tours under the out-of-date Soviet name of Kirov Ballet. And the opening presentation of the three-week season, Le Corsaire, is a highly enjoyable work seen in Britain only from them.

Yet I must say they have done it a lot better on previous visits. The dancers, I guess, are less to blame than the absolutely killing schedule of tours they are required to undertake. No wonder that familiar soloists are either absent or looking less than their best. The evening's conductor, too, Boris Gruzin, didn't help with his bland, brisk tempi.

Although inspired by one of Byron's most famous poems, Le Corsaire is not a ballet to be taken too seriously. The story of pirates, harem girls, kidnapping, rescues and a slave market has much activity (most of it gets repeated) but no great meaning - except perhaps that courage and true love may win in the end, even over shipwrecks. So the interest is not really in the characters but in violent adventure, showy dances and a lot of fun.

Starting life at the Paris Opéra nearly 150 years ago, Le Corsaire owes its best choreography to major revisions by Marius Petipa in St Petersburg. He also brought in several of the composers who wrote the hotchpotch (but engaging) score.

But anyway the version we have now was heavily restructured, a few years back, by the ballet master Pyotr Gusev and the critic Yuri Slonimsky, both of them with their tongues firmly in their cheeks.

We could have done with more of their allusiveness from the performers. All honour to Vladimir Shishov, a tall young man plucked from the corps de ballet as a replacement in the title role, for the forcefulness of his solos and his partnering, but he did not reveal the personality or acting skill to make this pirate dominate the action.

Likewise Svetlana Zakharova, whom we have admired in the past, and a newcomer, Tatiana Tkachenko, proved sadly charmless as the two leading women. There were lots of smiling high kicks from both of them, but not much character.

And that was a pretty general fault. The best dancing in fact came from the Odalisques in the last Act - and straight classical dancing is all that is required of them.

The company's famous corps de ballet has comparatively little to do in this production; they did it OK ... but not dazzlingly. Even at less than its best, the company is still worth seeing; but let's hope for better to come.

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