I once knew a ballet master who spent as much time castigating his students for their lack of projection as for their wobbly pirouettes.
"Don't forget the people in the cheap seats," he'd bellow sarcastically, waiting for the disinclined to lift their chins and look to the gods in the momentary belief that they were performing at La Scala, Milan. Had he suggested the Kirov Ballet as a role model, the desired effect might at least have been understood - if not achieved. For although the cheap seats aren't so cheap, nowadays anyone able to fork out pounds 45 for a ticket to see the Kirov at the Coliseum can expect to be addressed throughout the evening by dancers whose constant point of reference lies somewhere between the theatre's upper circle and balcony.
What the Kirov demonstrates more lucidly than any other company in the world is that ballet's outward and upward ardour is inseparable from the technique which both requires and produces it. And La Bayadere (the Petipa / Minkus ballet in the Russian version, which ends in the Kingdom of the Shades instead of the Temple), which on Monday opened the company's five- week London season, is a sumptuous illustration of that stage presence and projection, which has been prescribed and maintained by tradition.
As Nikiya, the temple dancer devoted to a dashing warrior, Solor, who has sworn eternal love, Yulia Makhalina alternates between expressions of rapturous but chaste devotion and an all-out portrayal of the agony of being betrayed by Solor (Farouk Ruzimatov) and destroyed by his bride, Gamzatti, who poisons her.
Like Ruzimatov - one of the few Kirov men to leave a lasting, if not always desirable, impression on the company's previous visits - Makhalina has an innate, direct eyeline to the upper reaches of the auditorium, and she contrasts fixed, anguished stares into the far distance with downcast, inward glances of sorrow.Ruzimatov (now also deputy artistic director of the Kirov) still exhibits the tendency to flaring nostrils and tiresome rodomontade which once dominated his dancing and parodied his own dramatic style.
But the peacock chest has subsided; a sense of classical purity underscores the thought behind his every action; and, if his attentive partnering of Makhalina is anything to go by, he now knows how to present his ballerina - rather than himself - as the most important individual on stage. The new, humbler Ruzimatov has come to accept that kneeling behind a standing ballerina, half-obscured by her tutu is, in any Petipa ballet, part of a male dancer's lot. But in his solo variations in the white heaven that is the Kingdom of the Shades scene, Ruzimatov commands our attention with a noble trail of soaring leaps and polished pirouettes.
As Gamzatti, Tatiana Amosova takes a while to show full-throttle - and believable - anxiety, and then enact revenge over Nikiya's declaration of undying love for Solor. But she is still a relative newcomer compared to Makhalina and Ruzimatov.
And while the Kirov has an ample share of dark beauties - Asylmuratova, Lopatkina, Volochkova: all scheduled to appear on this visit - Amosova is an ice-blonde of the Grace Kelly school of hair and make-up, with a bigger, softer physique and a more rounded but no less emphatic movement quality than her sinewy colleagues.
n Season continues until 12 August. 'La Bayadere' will be performed from 10-12 August. Booking: 0171-632 8300
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