But anyone who saw the original with the Paris Opera Ballet will argue that Mr B's Palais de Cristal (as Symphony in C was then called) was intended to be more than a brittle series of high-protein steps. The Kirov, with the help of John Taras, the former Balanchine dancer and ballet-master, dance this 1947 version rather than the reworked productions that Balanchine made on the fledgling New York City Ballet.
There is an unstoppable tendency towards drama in the Kirov, whatever they are dancing. Their Theme and Variations, tutted over by outraged Balanchinies when they danced it in London in 1990, had a certain triumphant grandeur. It was as if we were seeing the third act of a lost ballet. In just the same way, their account of Symphony in C lends a glowing humanity to Balanchine's peerless geometry. In the third movement, the corps de ballet respond to the sprightly Caledonian gaiety of the score with the gusto they inevitably bring to any national dance.
But the star of the evening was Uliana Lopatkina. Classically pure, with inspired phrasing and ravishing legs and feet, Lopatkina danced the second movement adagio as if enacting the vision scene of some unknowable drama. Her squire on Wednesday was Konstantin Zaklinsky. At 42, he still partners with tender strength but he is recovering slowly from a knee injury and it shows. Our delight in his performance was sheer, gooey nostalgia for his Albrecht, his Siegfried, his Conrad, but in bearing and partnering the man is still a solid gold prince.
Symphony in C was in a double bill with Giselle - a generous piece of programming that has the added advantage of introducing diehard fans of full-evening ballets to one-act works. Giselle and her faithless Albrecht were danced by Svetlana Zakharova and Igor Zelensky. Zakharova's quick, light jump and wafting arms were ideal for both the flaky gaiety of the happy peasant girl in Act 1 and the sorrowing shade of Act 2.
Igor Zelensky has recently said how uninteresting he finds the role of Albrecht. No doubt many danseurs nobles feel this way from time to time, but confessing to it is like a magician giving you chapter and verse on how to saw Anita Harris in half: it's never quite the same again. That said, he danced superbly. You could sense the audience storing up memories of his magnificence: when will London next see a dancer in this class?
Yet, as always, the loudest cheers were for the sublime, hall-of-mirrors magic of the corps de ballet. Every foot, every chin, every fingertip was aligned with a precision that transcended mere orderliness and became a natural force: a skein of birds, a school of fish, a swarm of bees. And their perfection is as terrible as it is beautiful: as the diagonal of Wilis gave an almost peristaltic convulsion along its length, pulling Hilarion towards his doom, I felt my blood run cold.
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