Sleeping Beauty, Royal Opera House, London

A dazzling opening
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The Independent Culture

The Kirov Ballet is back with seven programmes, 69 musicians and 93 dancers. Behind the latter exists a machine, inexhaustibly pumping out physically perfect specimens and providing, on each visit, new recruits, as sublimely trained as their predecessors. And so Natalia Sologub, who joined just three years ago, opened the season, dancing Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. The same ballet, an attempt to get as close as possible to Petipa's 1890 original, opened last year's season when Sologub was appearing only in solo parts; this time round was actually her début.

Valery Ovsyanikov conducted as only Russians can, turning the score into a lavish tapestry of sound, always closely bonded to every dramatic moment on stage, because that was the nature of the Petipa-Tchaikovsky collaboration. When Aurora pricks her finger and Carabosse bangs her stick on the floor, the noise fuses with the music in an ominous ticking like a clock. The only mismatch is on Aurora's first entry. Tchaikovsky's suspenseful announcement suggests we should see her approaching in the distance, but Petipa has her appear abruptly, almost unnoticed, from a side door.

Sologub, though, is striking. She arranges her willowy limbs in emphatic arcs and lines, she stretches her extensions in exaggerated modern style, she dramatically flattens her split jetés and floats them high. She has it all, physically, and seems securely in control. In time, she will probably find more expression to show Aurora's development from shy, young girl to sleeping vision and on to grand, married princess. She should also establish a closer rapport with her partner ­ in this case, the elegant Andrian Fadeyev. Veronika Part's Lilac Fairy is perfect in her gentle amplitude; Irina Zhelonkina's musicality as the Temperament Fairy is a joy; and Igor Petrov's Carabosse is unequalled in his ability to combine nuance with charismatic assertiveness.

The production gets better with each viewing as you notice fresh details. Look out for Catalabutte's joyous discovery that his hair has regrown during his 100-year sleep; and for Carabosse taking her place in the cloudy firmament of the final tableau, alongside Apollo and the Lilac Fairy, since evil is also a part of life. It is a beautiful, affecting ending and the ballet is a dazzling start to the season.

Further performances, 13 & 27 July (020-7304 4000)

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