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The Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, review: 'A happy whirlwind of speed and precision'

Anastasia Matvienko holds the ballet together

The Mariinsky Ballet’s Kimin Kim whirls through the air, dives into a quirky forward roll, then shoots straight up into a pure classical arabesque – and all in one exultant phrase.

Alexei Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH is a joyful finale to the Mariinsky Ballet’s triple bill, bubbling over with invention and fabulous dancing.

This programme shows off some of the great St Petersburg company’s recent acquisitions: they first danced Ratmansky’s 2008 ballet last year, while Frederick Ashton’s 1963 Marguerite and Armand had its Mariinsky premiere just last month. Even The Firebird, created in 1910, didn’t reach this company until 1994.

Concerto DSCH is danced to Shostakovich’s second piano concerto. It’s named for the “signature” the composer put into his music, a pattern of notes that spell out his initials. Shostakovich was full of codes and secrets, a response to life under Soviet rule – and there are hints of the Soviet past in Ratmansky’s ballet, an edge to the exuberance. The men’s costumes, designed by Holly Hynes, suggest workers’ dungarees. Ballerina Viktoria Tereshkina is held aloft in the middle of a churning circle of dancers, like the heroine of a propaganda poster.

Tereshkina and her partner Andrei Yermakov are both heroic and lyrical, with a flowing duet in the second movement. Seven corps couples frame the action, creating friezes or going their own way: they shadow the duet like clouds around the moon.

Kim, Nadezhda Batoeva and Filipp Stepin are sensational as the virtuoso trio in blue, sprinting through the ballet in fizzing, brilliant steps. In one sequence, Batoeva bounces between the two men, then switches places so that Kim is bounced – a rare example of balletic equal opportunities.

Elsewhere, the trio move in slow motion as everyone around them speeds up. In Concerto DSCH, the stage blooms with different events and patterns, without ever becoming cluttered. The Mariinsky sail through it, a happy whirlwind of speed and precision.

Marguerite and Armand was created for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, but in recent years it’s become a ballerina’s vehicle, rather than a showcase for a star couple. That’s certainly so here. As the dying courtesan Marguerite, Diana Vishneva is both passionate and ethereal. She floats through the skimming lifts with curved Ashtonian arms; her trembling bourréed steps look racked by sobs.

Konstantin Zverev is too wet for Armand, lacking adolescent fire. But it’s fascinating to see the Mariinsky dance Ashton, with Vishneva already marvellously in tune with the British choreographer’s lyrical style.

The evening opens with Mikhail Fokine’s The Firebird, in a thoroughly messy staging by Isabelle Fokine and Andris Liepa. The ballet’s driven patterns are replaced with flailing kitsch, the steps and rhythms smudged and lost. 

Given the very polyester recreation of the designs, the monsters suggested a 1970s disco rather than a Russian fairytale. In the title role, Anastasia Matvienko holds the ballet together, with a high jump and imperious presence.

Until 12 August. The Mariinsky Ballet’s season continues until 16 August. Box office 020 7304 4000.