It's 50 years since the Bolshoi Ballet gave its first London performances. This was the West's first sight of the grand scale of Soviet ballet. Five decades on, the Bolshoi returns to Covent Garden, and today's audience welcomes it warmly, though without the wild excitement created in the past.
Much has changed. There have been many visits since, so the Bolshoi is no longer an exotic rarity - though it's still a name that sells tickets. And the dancing has changed. In 1956, the first ballet was Romeo and Juliet, a naturalistic production that showed the dancers' powerful identification with their roles. In 2006, with The Pharaoh's Daughter, you can see the way the Bolshoi is changing, turning to Western choreographers, adjusting to lighter styles.
Though the dancers are confident, they can't hide the fact that The Pharaoh's Daughter is pastiche, a fake 19th-century ballet. Compelling belief is out of the question: wherever you tap this ballet's shiny surface, you hear the muffled ring of papier mâché.
Pierre Lacotte's production is based on Petipa's 1862 ballet - the choreographer's first big Russian success. Lacotte substitutes his own choreography, then - as in the original - surrounds it with spectacle.
It rejoices in the silliest of plots. The English explorer Lord Wilson is exploring Egypt when a storm blows up. Taking shelter in a handy pyramid, he smokes opium, and dreams the rest of the ballet - in which he is Taor, an ancient Egyptian who falls in love with Aspicia, the Pharaoh's daughter.
This balletic Egypt is brightly coloured, lavishly costumed, stuffed with parades, dances and exotic beasts. When Aspicia avoids an unwelcome suitor by jumping into the Nile, the next scene shows her descending, on wires, into a water nymph ballet.
The many, many solos are full of beaten steps, light, quick footwork. Lacotte is nervous of mime. He cuts dramatic scenes, or rushes through them. The result is a glib and glossy spectacle. We don't come to care for these characters.
Sergei Filin skims happily through Taor's dances, his jumps buoyant, his footwork quick and crisp. Lacotte's slapdash way with drama gives Filin little space for emotion, but he projects with decent seriousness throughout.
As Aspicia, Svetlana Zakharova looks lovely in her many frocks, but her technically fluent dancing has little variety.
The Bolshoi season continues until 19 August (020-7304 4000)Reuse content