The Sleeping Beauty, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

The Mariinsky Ballet's visit draws to a close with a fine new Aurora in a creaking old production. Konstantin Sergeyev's 1952 version of The Sleeping Beauty suffers from a much-modified text, very leisurely pacing and dreadful wigs. Even so, Evgenia Obraztsova shines as the lead.

This is a Soviet Beauty, trimming and adapting Petipa's original. The question is why the Mariinsky brought it in the first place. Ten years ago, the company staged a lavish reconstruction of the original 1890 production, with a much richer text. The 1890 costumes were sometimes curious, but they had nothing on the horrors credited to Simon Virsaladze. (The 1952 version sticks one of the fairies in an acid orange tutu, then surrounds her with attendants in hectic lilac. Ouch.)

So why go back to the previous production? There's been a retro look to many of the Mariinsky's recent decisions. At first, the company responded to the end of the Soviet Union by looking outwards, taking on Western choreography, re-examining its own past. It even changed its name, dropping the Soviet Kirov and returning to the old imperial Mariinsky. That impulse has faltered. Dancers who seemed excited by Forsythe or Balanchine now look under-rehearsed in those works.

It's not all bad news. There are still fine dancers, led by Obraztsova's lovely Aurora. Running on for her birthday party, she has an exuberant happiness. Small, with a pretty face and heavy-lidded eyes, she's bouncy and elegant. In the "Rose Adagio", her balances are steady enough, but the sense of celebration is more important. As she turns, arms held wide, she has an expansiveness that fills the Tchaikovsky music.

Igor Kolb makes an efficient prince. He jumps and partners briskly, but is short on depth. Maxim Zuzin's Bluebird has more energy. Ekaterina Kondaurova is an imperious Lilac Fairy. The corps de ballet were on untidy form, with far too many rough edges. Soloists fall into mannerisms. The lifted chin, a Mariinsky habit, was running riot.

Islom Baimuradov had some swagger as the wicked fairy Carabosse, but my favourite mime performance came from an attendant. Carabosse punishes the master of ceremonies by ripping off his hat and plucking his hair out. The attendant picked up the loose hair and hid it in the hat, trying to spare him embarrassment. It's the kind of detail that this production so often misses.

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