Louise Levene on dance

Before the Kirov's arrival in London last month there was talk of cash-flow problems, backstage power struggles and Mafia interference that painted a highly-coloured picture of a company in crisis. It may all be true, but it has yet to affect the productions themselves. Money may be tight, but the Kirov's lovingly maintained versions of the classics never have that flyblown look that came to characterise the Bolshoi's repertoire. And the dancing is still superb. The Kirov corps de ballet, despite being taller, thinner and a tad more athletic, continues to astonish with its ability to suggest that we're watching not 32 career swans but one beautiful dancer trapped between two mirrors. In the past the Kirov's critical reception has been unmodified rapture, but this time there were a few raspberries tucked among the bouquets.

So what was the problem? The major gripe was the company's frankly mysterious insistence on casting Yulia Makhalina for the first nights. Although beautiful and proficient enough to qualify for prima ballerina status, she lacks the dramatic abilities so necessary to bring silly old fairy stories to life. Her prominence has been all the more galling as the company still possesses one of the world's greatest ballerinas, in the shape of Altynai Asylmuratova (right). Now aged 34 and at the peak of her powers, she is the kind of dancer that reduces grown critics to jelly. Clement Crisp devoted an entire article to a prose poem on her charms. ''What had, the night before, seemed routine, foolish, even vulgar, was turned to glory. The drama lived for us - how noble her purity. How privileged we are to see her.'' And who would argue with him? Casting information tends to be iffy until the morning of the performance so anyone keen to catch a glimpse of the extraordinary Asylmuratova should check with the box-office and be prepared to queue.

Coliseum, London WC2 (0171-632 8300) to 12 Aug

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