Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

In the Bolshoi Ballet's Swan Lake, the company are dancing well, but Yuri Grigorovich's concept keeps getting in the way.

In the Bolshoi Ballet's Swan Lake, the company are dancing well, but Yuri Grigorovich's concept keeps getting in the way. Grigorovich has recently revised his 1969 production, dropping the happy ending imposed by the Soviet regime. Otherwise, this is an early example of Swan Lake saddled with psychological subtext. The prince still falls in love with the Swan Queen Odette, only to be tricked by her wicked double Odile. But Grigorovich is so busy turning Odette into a figment of the prince's unconscious that he fudges the ballet.

We're never told that Odette is in the power of a wicked magician; her fear and pathos are blurred. The magician is now an Evil Genius who lures the prince to the lake, leading him on with virtuoso jumps. Far from giving the prince depth, this turns him into a dull and helpless puppet. The strenuous new choreography grates against Tchaikovsky's score.

It's a messy staging. Grigorovich keeps cutting from palace to lakeside by dropping a gauze curtain - not just for scene changes, but for any and every dramatic moment. Simon Virsaladze's designs give us a sludge-brown palace and a muddy grey lake.

Other principals could cut through all this. Svetlana Zakharova recently joined the Bolshoi from the Kirov. The change has done her good: she's dropped her mannerisms, her overarched backbends, and found a new clarity of movement. But she remains a chilly technical marvel. Since leaving the Kirov, she's added a touch of the tragedy queen to Odette, a little vamping to Odile, but no more. She'll stop mid-phrase to highlight a pose, but that doesn't give it dramatic or musical meaning.

She barely notices her prince, but then Andrei Uvarov is easily overlooked. He has an elegant physique, a strong jump, clear line and arched feet, but he's a limp stage presence. For all his strength as a dancer, he lacks impetus: there's no drive to carry him from one step to the next.

As the Evil Genius, Dmitri Belogolovtsev tries to power his way through the role's shortcomings. He can't give it dramatic shape - it doesn't have one - but he jumps heroically in the attempt.

The corps of swans have a unified style, big but soft. Long legs are thrown back, arms upflung. They hurl themselves into the choreography, but without violence. The running, flocking swans build up more power than anything else on stage.

Grigorovich's production robs them of their other big moment, the national dances, which have been replaced by pointe shoe numbers. The solo dancing is impressive, but it's a lost opportunity. This corps pounce on any hint of folk dance flavour. The Neapolitans have silenced tambourines, but they beat and shake them with real attack. You can only guess how powerful this company could be in a real Swan Lake.

Bolshoi season to 7 August (020-7304 4000)

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