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The photograph on the cover of the programme for this evening, with the greatly loved Darcey Bussell and Igor Zelensky, shows Bussell looking enchantingly pretty, and merry as several grigs, bending over an adoring and happy Zelensky. But what their “show” revealed was sadly different.

The programme (obligingly if unwisely timed) began with seven minutes of Bussell partnered by William Trevitt in Kiss, a new duet by Alastair Marriott owing something to Rodin’s eponymous statue and to the sculptor’s love for Camille Claudel.

What we see is polite stuff set to sugary moments by Samuel Barber, with Bussell in an unflattering costume, while Trevitt, shall we say, dances attendance, and both cast wary glances into the wings. Waiting, perhaps, for a reason for being on stage. Zelensky then appears in 18 minutes of Russian angst (even more fraught than the usual brand) made by Alla Sigalova and “inspired” by a poem by Osip Mandelstam about “a man who is trying to learn infinity’s rules and understand himself”.

Black curtains are lowered behind him, he flails about as a Handel concerto grosso wends its way, and nothing happens at all, save the thought that differences in our views about what is “choreography” and what is dreary posturing are as vast as the distance between London and Novosibirsk, where Zelensky now directs the ballet troupe.

After a gaping interval, three couples from his Siberian troupe appear in “Whispers in the Dark”, one of those murky exercises in which the performers romp in all-too-familiar permutations over a stage made less than interesting by shafts of light and dry ice. A score by Philip Glass. Exquisitely predictable activity from girls in flat shoes and horrid little black frocks (which make them look, shall we say, stalwart, as does the choreography) and men in black leotards and bare chests.

Responsible for this double mauvais quart d’heure – it lasts 27 minutes, or perhaps aeons – is Edwaard Liang. Another entr’acte. Thoughts of tunnelling out. Then, at last, wonderful choreography, intense purpose, theatrical magic. Roland Petit’s Le jeune homme et la mort from 1946, with its Wakhevich/Cocteau garret, its despairing and angry coupling between the Young Man and provocative Death, and Petit’s genius.

Bussell transformed herself, as I have never seen before, into the teasing, deadly Young Girl; Zelensky was well suited to the Young Man, with his fierce outbursts of anger and sexual need. The stage was too small for the sets but this is a masterpiece, and it was not cheated. If Bussell and Zelensky are to repeat this programming idea, they would do well to ask Roland Petit, master of all things theatrical, to provide dance and ideas.

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