Back in 1961 when visits by Russian ballet companies were few and far between, people would happily take their sleeping bags along to the box office with an enthusiasm now reserved for rained-off tennis tournaments.
Tickets are still available for the Kirov's season opening at the London Coliseum on Tuesday. Why? Are ballet-goers now less passionate? Have they become spoilt by too many Russian visits? Or is the Kirov of today lacking the magic of the company that astonished the world in the Sixties? All three are true - up to a point.
Spoilt by frequent treats, ballet audiences have begun to pick holes in performances that would once have left them totally satisfied. The style is certainly changing. The younger generation of dancers conform to an increasingly common international look - long on line and short on expression. Nightmarish budget constraints mean that the dancers can't afford to bash their point shoes about before dancing in them so that the once silent corps de ballet clatters across the stage like a hailstorm of white tulle.
Details. Mere details. The Kirov present eight programmes of 19th- and 20th-century ballet. The casting has (unusually) been announced in advance, revealing a solid star presence. Altynai Asylmuratova, widely regarded as the world's greatest ballerina, dances one performance of each full- length ballet, partnered by the likes of Igor Zelensky, her husband Konstantin Zaklinsky and gorgeous, pouting Faroukh Ruzimatov. Around these stars revolve the Kirov's other great strengths. The corps de ballet remains a formidable manifestation of the power of collective unconscious. Its character dancers are superb. An eminent critic recently observed that a particular British dancer tended "to leave a void where once a character had been". Kirov dancers do the opposite and pack the stage with drama and incident.
The other thing that makes the company an enduring pleasure is its magnificent orchestra - under Viktor Fedotov's baton you can enjoy the Kirov with your eyes shut.Reuse content