Bussell and Guillem slug it out


I've heard nothing to suggest that fire regulations have tightened up at Covent Garden, but the feeble device that serves for a sacred Hindu flame throughout the first act of La Bayadere suggests a new degree of pyrophobia. Once you've made the decision to go ahead and stage that most grandly ludicrous of all the surviving 19th-century ballets - complete with waltzing Indian serving girls, naked fakirs, murder by snakebite and a full-scale collapsing Hindu temple - you've just got to throw caution to the wind. Miming sacred vows over a fire of orange crepe-paper ribbons gives quite the wrong message: Bayadere isn't a ballet you play safe with.

Sensible decisions dampen a good deal of the Royal Ballet's revival of Natalia Makarova's otherwise fascinating production. Until the 1980s, Bayadere was unknown in the West other than as a scenic excerpt - the legendary Kingdom of the Shades, with its bewitching procession of white- tutu'd girls arabesquing under a silver moon. The Russian Imperial ballet, we are told, fielded 48 ghostly girls, the Royal manages only 24, but the moment when the seemingly endless crocodile of ballerinas suddenly melts into five straight white lines is still a breathtaking feat of stage geometry.

The full three-act ballet puts this pale vision into colourful context: it's the result of an opium binge by the warrior hero, Solor, spliced between a first and a last act brimful of the sort of hyperactive hi-jinx more often found in opera. The first meeting between the rival female leads, both in love with Solor, is curiously devoid of dancing. All that passion must be poured into mime, the imperious Princess Gamzatti offering extravagant bribes and violent threats to pursuade the humble temple dancer to give up her warrior lover, the unrelenting girl eventually wielding a dagger to fend her off.

The whole tenor of the evening hangs on the casting of these two, as the queues for returns that snaked along Floral Street were aware. The chance of seeing Sylvie Guillem and Darcey Bussell not only on the same stage but also - steady on guys - in combat together was the sort of double whammy you'd sleep on the pavement not to miss. But in the event the pairing didn't quite fizz. Guillem turned in a performance of polished-alabaster cool, beautifully nuanced with the modesty appropriate to a bayadere. But Bussell, for all her physical splendour, seems to have trouble summoning spite, let alone murderous venom.

It's an uneven ballet at best, with its longer-than-usual stretches of non-dance, Minkus's unmemorable score, and the mad incongruity of polkas at a rajah's party. Teddy Kumakawa's two-minute solo - as an animated Bronze Idol in wet-look gold body paint - contained more balletic whizz- bangs than the entire last act. Naturally, the costume department have had a field day, producing acres of tulle embroidered with peacocks' eyes, fancy turbans, and so on. But for all the work's period extravagance, its two or three major dance moments stand up with the greatest, and this revival gives these full throttle.

The Rambert Dance Company strode into the capital this week, to luxuriate in the wide-open space of the Peacock's stage after a year on the road. Still riding high after its 70th birthday, it packed the West End venue with a triple bill that offered something old as well as something new. Swansong was created by Rambert's current artistic director Christopher Bruce back in the 1980s, long before he was mooted as saviour of the ailing company. The enduring quality of Swansong - a three-hander in which a prisoner of conscience endures interrogation - reminds us why Bruce was and still is the right man for the job, tapping the company's assets in a populist as well as provoking vein.

Torture isn't a pretty subject, and the piece does not flinch from its horrors. Yet by assured use of irony Bruce manages to get nearer the ugly truth - and our inadequate responses to it - than many more harrowing plays or films. The idea of interrogation by vaudeville tap-dance routine may sound wildly off-beam, but if Amnesty International had set up a stall at the Peacock, they would have found it well worth their while.

Bruce's new piece, Stream, is more abstract, but provides enough fleeting clues to keep even the dimmest spectator engaged. This is the scene they cut from the film 2001: lunar sylphs swimming on the planet's crust, blotchy- limbed fauns synchronised in a rutting stomp; gravity-less creatures in an inter-galactic jive; a suggestion of Adam and Eve, and the beginnings of another big story. Taken with Philip Chambon's tumultuous electronic score, and full-blooded performances all round, please welcome

Speculation was rife as to what avant- garde choreographers William Forsythe and Dana Caspersen would come up with for the latest Beck's/Artangel installation, Tight Roaring Circle, based at the London Roundhouse. The stern promise of "an interaction between fields of light and movement" did nothing to prepare anyone for what greets you on entering the vast Victorian engine- shed: a 30ft-high, white leatherette bouncy castle. Any interaction is between you and it. Halfway up a padded turret a text reads: "Each passing year never failing to exact its toll keeps altering what was sublime into the stuff of comedy." Too right. Leave your shoes at the door and bounce yourself silly.

'La Bayadere': ROH, WC2 (0171 340 6000) Tues, Thurs & Fri, then 10 April. 'Tight Roaring Circle': Roundhouse, NW1 (0171 336 6803) to 20 April.

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