Zelensky's is a serious prince: conscious of his position, considerate of the feelings and wishes of others but lost in the world of courtly protocol and social dance. His melancholy soliloquy after the courtiers have departed - with its languid, contemplative pirouettes - tells of a man in search of something that can feed his romantic idealism. This was supplied by Lopatkina's Odette. Although fashionably long of limb and lean of build, she has none of the exaggerated, robotic athleticism that blights some of the Kirov's current crop of ballerinas. The Black Swan high jinks were a particular pleasure; Lopatkina transformed herself into a cruel beauty who flirted mercilessly with Tchaikovsky with every late-flowering flourish of her sinuous arms as she swooned through her ravishing pirouettes. All the tricks of technique were brilliantly deployed as a manifestation of Odile's obdurate cruelty. Zelensky's pure, simple Siegfried didn't stand a chance, and announced his misplaced love to the world by soaring above the stage in a transport of leaps.
As with last week's Don Quixote, the smaller roles are all cast with care. In the pas de trois for the Prince's friends, Nikita Shteglov with his big easy jump and Maya Dumchenko with her diamond pointwork both contributed to the sheer largesse of the evening. Young Vyacheslav Samodurov finally got in some work as the Jester (motto: why walk when you can jete?). This human spinning top is an irritating feature of Russian productions but it was magnificently danced.
Act 3 was a box of delights. In the Spanish dance, Islom Baimoradov gave us a welcome reminder of his superb Espada in Don Q and Natalya Tsyplakova and Galina Rakhmanova bent over backwards in the service of Iberian authenticity. Maxim Khrebtov provided another tantalising flash of new talent in the Neapolitan dance and his appearance caused a sudden rustle of cast lists in the stalls. The corps de ballet looked particularly well. I don't know if it was the uncanny precision of the performers or the high seriousness of the production as a whole but, for once, the four little swans didn't look daft.
There is only one drawback: during the interval, I overheard a mother patiently explaining ballet technique to her daughters: "The ladies wear special shoes with large blocks of wood in the toes." You could see her point. Today's Kirov corps are said to be thriftily reluctant to bash the toes of their Russian shoes and a collective jump by 32 of the skinniest dancers can sound like hail on a tin roof.
On last week's evidence, there is little doubt that any of the Kirov's London performances will be worth seeing but that some casts are more enjoyable than others. Wednesday's Don Quixote and Saturday's matinee performance of Swan Lake both starred Farouk Ruzimatov and Yulia Makhalina. The Swan Lake matinee was originally scheduled for Altynai Asylmuratova but Makhalina was substituted by an insensitive management. Although beautiful and technically assured, she doesn't begin to inspire the kind of critical and popular devotion that Asylmuratova enjoys. Her Odette/Odile is cold, unconvincing and, at times, rather unmusical but, although she misses much of its poetry, the role suits her far better than Kitri in Don Quixote, which she danced last Wednesday with all the warmth and spontaneity of Joan Crawford with a migraine. For comedy she rations herself to two facial expressions: smile (mouth open) and smile (mouth closed), a minimalist approach that left poor Ruzimatov rather stranded. Ruzimatov plays comedy with more success than you might expect. His dancing is also enjoying a surprising return to form and is almost reminiscent of the astounding ego on legs that endeared him to Covent Garden audiences in the late 1980s.
All that said, you'd have more fun watching Asylmuratova and Zelensky. The cheaper seats are looking pretty full but anyone who can afford the stalls and can tell their Asylmuratova from their elbow would do well to check casting on the day.
London Coliseum to 9 Aug. `Swan Lake', 21 to 24 July, `Don Quixote', 25 to 26 July (0171-632 8300) Louise LeveneReuse content