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The Kirov brings back its harmony

In the West, the most frequently performed work by the early 20th-century Russian choreographer Mikhail Fokine is ``Les Sylphides'' - for all the wrong reasons. The steps are deceptively easy-looking, and the ballet requires just one male dancer, which endears it to directors of regional groups chronically short of men.

In Russia, the work is still known by its original title, ``Chopiniana,'' which seems appropriate since the original demands a unique style and spirit - which the Kirov Ballet conveyed exquisitely at last night's opening of a four-day run in the Wang Theatre. It was its first visit to Boston since 1992.

The success of ``Chopiniana'' depends not on technique - that's taken for granted - but on a mood created by a gentle tilt at the waist, arms like silk ribbons, weightless wafting, and the perfect unisons that result only from dancers literally growing up together, which the Kirov dancers have. In ``Chopiniana,'' the St. Petersburg dancers are peerless.

The variety in this all-Fokine program reflects his demand for a different vocabulary and style for each ballet. In ``Scheherazade,'' some poses resemble Egyptian or Assyrian bas-reliefs by way of Cecil B. DeMille. This melodrama to Rimsky-Korsakov's score is a tale of passion, betrayal, and death, with a lot of slinky steps for the corps de ballet and saber-wielding by the Shah, who returns home to his harem to find his favorite wife, Zobeide, in the arms of The Golden Slave.

It's debatable how much of the 1910 choreography remains - a lot of this production looks like a steamy lingerie ad - but you don't go to ``Scheherazade'' for the steps. It's the seduction that's the lure. Two Kirov stars familiar to Western audiences - Farukh Ruzimatov and Diana Vishneva - were gorgeous, writhing and preening for each other, equal in their lust. Both possess the extreme technique that didn't exist in Fokine's day, but both put their virtuosity at the service of expression that boils down to sex.

In the Fokine/Stravinsky ``Firebird,'' style serves subject through Russified gestures borrowed from folk and court dances. Only the Firebird - dazzlingly danced by Tatiana Amosova - is on pointe, because only she is supernatural. The Princess may be royal, but as a mortal she wears soft slippers. This ``Firebird'' unfolds at a stately, leisurely pace, with plenty of pageantry. But ultimately, and gratifyingly, this production is driven by dance, not decor. And the dancing is a harmonious whole, harmony being the Kirov's glory, the quality that distinguishes it from the eclecticism of Western troupes, the reason you should seize this chance to see the Russians during their all-too-brief stay.

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