More style than content

DANCE

This is the time of year when the ballet-fancier's choice starts to look a bit like Hobson's. There's either the one about the little poor girl with no nice clothes who gets to dance with a prince, or the one about the little rich girl with lots of nice toys who also gets to dance with a prince. In London, for once, the ballet companies have managed to spread their festive wares equally between Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky - thanks to a judicious reshuffle by the Royal Ballet, which switched its projected Nutcracker to Cinderella at the eleventh hour. But the most eager anticipation has been for the Kirov Ballet's offering, tantalisingly billed as our first chance to see the St Petersburg Nutcracker. This 1930s production, we are to believe, has a greater claim than any to the true spirit of Lev Ivanov's 1892 original. Proper snow at Christmas, sleigh bells, winter palaces - they know about such things in St Petersburg.

Of course there are many ways to crack a nut. In the 1950s, Ashton's Casse Noisette excluded both the party and the mouse battle. In the 1960s Nureyev gave the story a Freudian twist with the toy-maker turning into the Prince. Mark Morris's recent version had the adults snorting coke at the party and Clara swooning over Drosselmeyer's nephew. So what of the Kirov version that boasts a return to Ivanov's "original libretto"? Is it convincing? It is not. Forgetting for a moment that the first production was anyway an out-and-out flop, we have here a company that seems to doubt the value of any sort of production at all.

Cue Tchaikovsky's glorious party music, and enter "children" in high spirits. The boys are young women wearing ill-fitting wigs. We know they are boys because they keep slapping each other on the back. The girls skip and simper, miming oohs and aahs over each other's dolls. Young Masha (Clara in Western versions) is the only real child, a miniature adult in point shoes, gravely displaying her skinny balletic line in po-faced arabesques that render her more curious than endearing. Dr Drosselmeyer, far from introducing an occult frisson as the score suggests, comes on like Eric Morecambe in silly wizard's mufti. Worse is to come.

Lurching between blandness and ineptitude, the midnight battle of the toys has all the dramatic intensity of a tiff between Sooty and Sweep. A clock shows midnight stage left, but we hear it chiming stage right; a cloud of bats (were they bats?) are cloaked in a forgiving darkness by lighting that's still on a three-day week. So what gives the Kirov its grand reputation? Its dancing, stupid. Once child Masha is transformed into adult Princess (via the crudest kind of blackout), we get the works.

Altynai Asylmuratova is a grand exponent of the Russian style, cultivating a glittering stage persona that barely seems to register the scenario she's part of, or even the Prince she's with. Her love affair is entirely with the audience - expressed in bravura balances that hover unsupported for longer than seems humanly possible or necessary, followed by flashing, flirting smiles that dare you to wish her on to yet greater risks. Stanislav Belyaevsky's solo dancing is powerful and superb but, with his attentions unrewarded, as a partner he is strangely mute.

At the end we are left examining our own expectations of ballet. Do we want coherent narrative and dramatic structure, or scintillating movement to match the best bits of the score? The Kirov presents in a nutshell the problem of ballet - what keeps so many from going to the ballet at all. Russian ballet is about technique, not soul; about the cult of the virtuoso, not dramatic truth. How strange coming from a country that has spent most of this century proclaiming the virtues of collectivism. Thereby hangs a tale.

What English National Ballet's casting lacks in technical glitter, Ben Stevenson's five-year-old Nutcracker (its sets a little dog-eared now) makes up for in gusto. The busy-busy business at the party may sometimes verge on the twee, but the show is dynamic, holds together and is terrific fun. Hyperactive Fritz becomes the hero of all small boys as he gleefully hacks off the head of his sister's doll. And Clara's present of a pair of ballet point shoes makes perfect sense of the problematic second half, both underlining her desire to move on from childhood and prepar- ing us for the stretches of stage time that are genuinely about dancing for dance's sake. Take a stray child to see it, if any excuse is needed.

But go alone to the Royal Ballet's luscious revival of Ashton's Cinderella, the English choreographer's homage - as it happens - to the grand aesthetic of 19th-century Russia. Lyric beauty drifts through much of this work like a heavy perfume, but nothing can prepare you for the heart-stopping entry of the heroine in the ballroom. As Prokofiev's score goes shimmering off the harmonic dial, the girl, in a trance, descends the ballroom stairs - each pointed step a tender balancing act that grows in amazement and self-awareness. Here is the subtle unity of dance, music and dramatic conviction that for me is ballet's raison d'etre.

Kirov Ballet 'Nutcracker': Coliseum, WC2, 0171 632 8300, to Sat. English National Ballet 'Nutcracker': RFH, SE1, 0171 960 4242, to 11 Jan. Royal Ballet 'Cinderella': ROH, WC2, 0171 304 4000, Tues & Sat only.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz