Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London

Glorious dancing and music, average production
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The Independent Culture

One of the chief pleasures of the Kirov Ballet's present London season has been the large number of gifted young dancers on show in roles both large and small. At the first performance of Swan Lake this time the four Big Swans leading the corps de ballet in their lakeside dances were Veronika Part, Daria Pavlenko, Tatiana Amosova and Natalia Sologub, all of whom also take leading parts (and doubtless could play the ballerina role in Swan Lake). That's really quite some line-up.

As an aside, I must squeeze in mention of another of the outstanding youngsters, Irina Golub, who took the lead in the "Rubies" section of Jewels the other day and completely transformed it through the vivacity and sheer fun of her dancing, revealing far better than her seniors what that ballet is actually about.

Back to our swans. Uliana Lopatkina played the double ballerina role on the first night, with several others to follow her (but you take pot luck when you go, since the casting published in advance seems largely fictional). Lopatkina has progressed to star status and is as great a favourite with London audiences as with Petersburgers. Her dancing is almost sensationally smooth, expansive and musical, and she tries hard to establish the two contrasted characters.

She is not greatly helped in that by Konstantin Sergeyev's production, which contains wall-to-wall dancing but hardly any mime and it's the most vital bits that get omitted, so the ballet becomes virtually an abstract arrangement of the original. Audiences, luckily, seem hardly to care, and neither does Lopatkina's able, good-looking but rather anonymous Prince, Daniil Korsuntesv, whose idea of acting is apparently to smile lots and flourish his arms.

He is a strong partner; not by Russian standards a virtuoso soloist but quite dashing, and in the Royal Ballet he would certainly stand out. Ilya Kuznetsov as Rothbart has virtually no character but much impressive leaping. The most brilliant male dancing came from Kiril Simonov as the jester; if we must have that tiresome character (Western productions can manage without, but Russians find him obligatory), it cannot be danced much more dazzlingly than Simonov with his swift, sure turns and non-stop complex jumps. Apropos jumping, a word for the lightness and breadth of Irina Zhelonkina, Elvira Tarasova and Dmitry Semionov in the pas de trois.

Except for a somewhat stolid ballroom, Igor Ivanov's settings are quite handsome, and if the production does not throw any new light on the ballet, it doesn't seriously betray it either. Neither can there be anything but praise for the way the Maryinsky Orchestra and conductor Boris Gruzin perform Tchaikovsky's music, one of the most heartfelt scores of one of Russia's greatest composers. While you can hear playing like this, Swan Lake will always be worthwhile.

To 7 July (020 7304 4000)

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