Swan Lake

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My comments on the Kirov Ballet's Swan Lake, the second of their London programmes, must be given with the proviso "so far as I could see", since from stalls D6 (a top-price seat, if you please) my view of the stage was blocked by three heads in front. The Royal Opera House's costly rebuilding left an awful lot of faults.

Luckily I can report that the half of the swan corps de ballet I could see looked pretty good: lovely legs, lovely line, lovely arms, although sadly their block shoes are still too often clattery. They are the production's greatest virtue, together with the simplicity and flair of most of the ballroom scene. The Spanish dance and the mazurka (in spite of its sometimes rushed tempi) are notably good; the czardas a bit too mimsily fancy.

For me, this version has three major faults. Firstly, the opening scene has far too much prancing around and too little courtliness. Next, both that scene and the ball are constantly interrupted by a tiresome and ludicrously prominent character, nothing to do with the original Petipa and Ivanov staging - a plump, grinning little show-off jester. Thirdly, at the ballet's end the lovers lose their affecting mutual sacrifice in favour of an unmotivated "happy ever after" sunlit pose. It's high time, I think, for another of the Kirov's famous historical restorations.

Casts vary every night, but I doubt that you'll find anyone to beat Igor Zelensky as Prince Siegfried. His solos are not quite so brilliant as in his youth, but they are still impressive, and he has become slimmer and more expressive. The pas de trois dancers, too, Irina Golub, Irina Zhelonkina and Anton Korsakov (when I could see them), were really good, although I have reservations about their choreography.

Nor am I an enthusiast for Svetlana Zakharova in this ballerina role. She puts her limbs into twisted, angular shapes, and her acting of Odette is distinctly remote, while she plays the lookalike rival, Odile, without much subtlety. I have to add though, that, like the Royal Ballet, the Kirov doesn't always put out its best casts on the opening night.

In Le Corsaire, for instance, earlier in the week, I had to wait until the Wednesday matinée to see a sensitive, moving account of the heroine, Medora, and that from a corps de ballet member, Yekaterina Kondaurova. In the other leading female role, that of Medora's friend Gulnare, Elvira Tarasova, dancing on the second night, was the best I saw; and her warmth was admirably matched by Andrian Fadeyev as Lankadem, the slave dealer who has a big duet with her - a young man who looks, on this showing, much improved in both technique and presentation.

So don't believe the nonsense you will read in some papers about the present company's perfection, but do go along hopefully, knowing that in an uneven performance there will always be something to enjoy - provided that the seat you find yourself in allows you to see it.

'Swan Lake' in repertory until 8 August (020-7304 4000)

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