Moscow Dance Theatre / Nina Ananiashvili, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Be wary of ballerina vanity projects, however well-intentioned. The Bolshoi star Nina Ananiashvili hopes to show a wider range of work than she can dance with her home company. She has live music and new or newish ballets. The first of two programmes at Sadler's Wells was a sorry mix of hasty dancing and dim choreography.

This isn't quite a Nina And Friends show. Moscow Dance Theatre is an independent company, co-founded by Ananiashvili and the former Bolshoi director Alexei Fadeyechev to create contemporary work. The soloists are mostly borrowed from the Bolshoi; the corps, mostly Georgian, dance messily but on a big scale.

Whatever Ananiashvili's ambitions, her new work is ill-chosen. Stanton Welch's Green starts as a back-to-front rip-off of Balanchine's Serenade. Girls in long ballet skirts face away from the audience, then raise their arms in unison. The music is Vivaldi, rather scratchily played by the Russian Orchestra of London. Soloists scramble in and out, covering their eyes or flapping their wrists as they work through academic steps.

It's a terrible ballet, but Ananiashvili has some grandeur left. Her wrists and shoulders are tense, her hair is unflatteringly bobbed, but there's a bold sweep to her legs and her line can still be gorgeous.

There is a little more polish in Trey McIntyre's Second Before the Ground, set to vaguely African music by the Kronos Quartet. It's another suite of academic dances, upbeat but characterless. McIntyre made the piece for Houston Ballet; what made Fadeyechev think it worth acquiring?

At least Leah was made for this company. The choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has just been appointed director of the Bolshoi. His ballet, set to Leonard Bernstein's music, is a version of Ansky's play The Dybbuk. It's the story of a woman possessed and then exorcised. Ratmansky has trouble expressing this in dance; it's hard enough to follow the programme notes.

Ananiashvili is Leah, a Jewish girl whose father has arranged her marriage with his best friend's son (Andrei Uvarov). The company dance in circles around her, skipping or huddling in Rite of Spring knock-kneed poses. Then the friend dies - at least, someone collapses on stage - and Leah's father calls off the wedding.

The son turns to the magic of cabbala to win Leah back. They stamp through Greek folk steps; catch and throw him, catch and throw Ananiashvili. The magic kills the hero, but his soul takes over the heroine.

This gives Ratmansky and Ananiashvili the chance for a couple of mad scenes. She plunges and kicks, then switches to classical pirouettes at the height of her frenzy. A rabbi exorcises her, but she dies when her lover's soul leaves her body.

This should have been a strong role for Ananiashvili, who has called it her "modern Giselle". But it's dull. Ananiashvili's stage presence can't give this ballet dramatic force.