Kind hearts and pirouettes

The Kirov's British tour will have few surprises – but will retain their trademark soul and sensitivity

Nadine Meisner
Friday 03 January 2014 04:46
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The Kirov Ballet's debut at the Lowry comes three years (almost to the day) after Salford's first-ever piece of titanium architecture opened with another coup, the Paris Opera Ballet. On stage, they danced Nureyev's opulent production of the 1877 Petipa masterpiece, La Bayadère, while the building was still being completed, virtually under their feet. Now the rubble has disappeared, and the Kirov bring their La Bayadère, the ballet for which they can claim original ownership and which Nureyev learned in his own early Kirov career.

With Swan Lake also on the cards, the programming is appropriately traditional. This is the Kirov's signature repertoire for the unfamiliar British North West, and it represents everybody's idea of Russian ballet. Of course, these days the Kirov do a whole lot besides. Since perestroika, they have increasingly acquired Western works. So will the Kirov end up looking like all other companies? Will these other companies, influenced by Kirov stylistic precepts, start looking like them?

It hasn't happened yet. They still perform classics like no other. The rigorous training and close teacher-pupil relationship survives. Watch the likes of Svetlana Zakharova and Igor Zelensky in Swan Lake or Daria Pavlenko in La Bayadère, and you will see the famed co-ordination of Russian training, the rich nuance that is as lavishly sensuous as Tchaikovsky's music. This is dance that sings with soul and sensitivity.

The Kirov's La Bayadère has long been a favourite of their London seasons, a production unequalled by any other – until, that is, last year, when they premiered an historical reconstruction of La Bayadère. An archaeological exercise in the manner of their much- admired "authentic" Sleeping Beauty, this new "old" Bayadère retrieves missing detail and the final, apocalyptic act. Sadly, the version for the Lowry is the previous, apocalypse- free one, even if it is still tremendous. But hardcore fans can compare and contrast by booking for the new one when it comes to Covent Garden this summer.

Their Swan Lake is also one of the best around: refreshingly straightforward in concept, beautifully simple in design, and chastely exquisite in performance. It's a pity about the inescapably tiresome jester, a role which we Western critics never fail to complain about. We also complain about the Soviet-approved happy ending that replaces the apotheosis of the original: this was considered too metaphysical, although you'd have thought that, post-Communism, they might go back to it. But then, you'd have thought that, by now, we might accept that the Kirov are no longer the Kirov. Like their home city St Petersburg, they have reverted to their old name: the Maryinsky.

'Swan Lake', Mon to 1 May; 'La Bayadère', 2-3 May, 0870- 787 5780, www.thelowry.com; public booking for the Kirov Ballet's London season (21 July-9 August) opens 19 May

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