With a rocket-fuelled, high-octane production of The Flames of Paris, the Bolshoi Ballet has concluded its three-week season in London. And with the reappearance of the company’s former Wunderkinds, back as guest artists, to dance together in the ballet’s opening performance, how could it be anything but an exciting and exuberating final flourish to the tour. Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, who stunned the dance world when they left the company two seasons ago to join the Mikhailovsky Ballet and to carve out international careers for themselves – Osipova joins the Royal Ballet in November – set the Royal Opera House stage ablaze with their vitality, energy and sparkling virtuoso dancing. Their natural effervescent characters lit the fuse, which fired up the whole company, resulting in an explosion of delighted cheering from the whole auditorium.

After a steady diet of the Bolshoi’s subtler and purer classical productions – Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadere and Jewels, all beautifully done – this high speed ballet blasts off with old fashioned Bolshoi bravura, combining classical, character and courtly dances, mass crowd scenes complete with flag waving and fist shaking, and spirited – often unbelievable – pyrotechnical displays. Like its musical counterpart Les Miserables, The Flames of Paris is set during the French revolution. The original production was choreographed by Vassily Vainonen for the Kirov Ballet in 1932 and was apparently Stalin’s favourite ballet, since it was filled with Soviet flavoured propaganda: decadent rich aristocrats, hungry down-trodden peasants and revolutionaries who triumph over their evil masters.

This latest production was created in 2008 by Alexei Ratmansky, (then the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director), and this was it’s UK première – though sadly there were only three performances and only one with the dynamic duo. Ratmansky, a highly talented and much sought-out international choreographer, stays true to the original while updating it somewhat, and cutting it down to two, rather than three, acts. The scenario is pretty thin with scenes that jump from impassioned revolutionaries manning the barricades, to the mannered subtleties of 18th century courtly entertainment. And of course the guillotine makes its gruesome appearance, as does a severed head. So while it may not be a ballet for classical purists, it’s highly entertaining and is filled with exuberant dancing. Devoted siblings Jeanne and Jerome are free spirits until they are forced to confront the wrongs done by the aristocracy and join the revolutionary band.

Here Jeanne meets the confident young Marseillais, Philippe, they fall in love, and she becomes a passionate and fervent leader of the revolt. Jerome has fallen in love with Adeline, (the daughter of the lecherous Marquis,) who runs away from her lavish life to join him. In the role of Jerome, tall, handsome Andrei Merkuriev demonstrated good acting, beautiful lines and perfect finishes to strong technique. His Adeline was Anastasia Stashkevitch, a petite young ballerina who has proved herself over and over on this tour. Here she was a convincing actress, a gentle, shy girl torn between her aristocratic upbringing and her desire to be with the revolutionaries, which ultimately sees her led to the guillotine in Act 2.

In strong contrast to a stage filled with rowdy Parisian activists, the next scene changed to the court in the Tuileries where vapid aristocracy, dressed in silks, brocades and velvet with high powdered wigs and buckled shoes wiled away their time in formal dances and being entertained by a somewhat long-drawn-out divertissement. Here, ‘actress’ Mireille de Poitiers and ‘actor’ Antoine Mistral, enact out the ballet story of Rinaldo and Armida, a tale of love, magical powers and the proverbial happy ending. Wearing an old-fashioned heavier red tutu embellished with black and gold, with ribboned legs and plumed headgear, Kristina Kretova performed the role with an air of confidence, beaming throughout, and dancing with nimbleness, especially in the series of attitudes en tournant en pointe – turning hops on pointe. Artem Ovcharenko was her elegant consort, partnering her with care, and leaping to great heights to land softly. Amour who sends her love arrows into their hearts was spritely danced by Chinara Alizade.

Then it was onto the second act with much more dancing, including the famous Basque dance. This is normally done by character dancers but here, the four principals, joined by Vitaly Biktimirov, performed it – and very well too – strutting and stomping with stamina and high spirits. Finally there was the opportunity to see the duo spark off each other. Like a greyhound let out of the slips, Vasiliev shot across the stage in a series of mind-boggling leaps, putting in triple turns in the air where normally there would be two; pirouetting so fast, it would seem that he would bore through the floor; leaping and hanging horizontally in the air; and concluding with barrel turns and multi-complicated flourishes – and all done with a wide grin. The audience roared. Not to be outdone, Osipova, showing off her talents, sped across the stage, her twinkling feet barely touching the ground; twizzled in multi pirouettes; jumped with high soaring stretched leaps to end with cyclonic spins. Her expressive face exuded the joy of being on stage and of dancing, and she too won the hearts of the cheering public. Their curtain calls went on and on.

The Flames of Paris, at Royal Opera HouseMargaret Willis reviews the Bolshoi Ballet at Royal Opera House, London performing The Flames of Paris4