There can be no lovelier and mystical moment in classical ballet than the sight of 32 ethereal ‘Shades’ in a ribbon of white, slowly descending from a darkened mountain range, down a zigzag ramp to the stage. These spirits of another world, in pristine tutus with chiffon scarves attached to the nape of their necks and wrists, enter one at a time to pose, then follow the other dancers in a simple but effective exercise of two steps into a high arabesque in plié, followed by a backbend, with right leg pointed in front. This they do with their legs at equal height, until all dancers are one stage (the first girl has done 46 arabesques all on the same leg.) There they form four straight lines and stand on pointe, legs and tutus quivering. It is truly a breathtaking sight when done well, and the Bolshoi’s corps de ballet deserves plaudits for the precision and discipline that was on show at the Saturday matinée.

This Kingdom of the Shades scene is the start of Act III of La Bayadère, a ballet created by Marius Petipa, that was first performed in 1877. With many elements to make it of interest to most: a good, improbable scenario that is dramatic, romantic, has skulduggery and tragedy; brightly coloured sets and costumes; much mime and of course, fastidious classical technique, it has remained popular over the years.

Set in old India, it tells the story of Nikiya, a beautiful young bayadère – a temple dancer – who loves the young handsome warrior Solor. However, just after he has sworn allegiance over the holy fire to be true to her, he returns home to find that he must marry Gamzatti, the stunning daughter of the Rajah Dugmanta. On learning of Solor’s love for Nikiya, the Rajah plots to have her killed and when she is called upon to dance for the bridal couple at their nuptual celebrations, she is bitten by a snake that has been hid in her basket of flowers. She dies and Solor, filled with remorse, smokes an opium pipe and dreams of meeting her again. They tenderly dance together before she leaves him forever to return to the other world, leaving him prostrate as the curtain falls. This production, revised with some new choreography, was created by one-time Bolshoi director Yuri Grigorovich, and premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in January 2013. The new designs and costumes, based on originals, are by Nikolai Sharanov, with music by Ludwig Minkus, richly played by the Bolshoi ‘s own orchestra, under the baton of Pavel Klinichev.

Nikiya is a perfect role for Mariinsky ballerina Evgenia Obraztsova, now a principal with the Bolshoi. Though petite and delicate-looking, she offers strong and fluid technique. Her small face is pretty, symmetrical with large, expressive eyes, and there was a definite intake of breath from the audience when the High Brahmin removed her veil to reveal her beauty for the first time. As a dancer, she is thoughtful and intense, a perfectionist in all she does. She demonstrated clear, neat lines, her jumps and turns were light and impressive, and she has a supple body, especially evident in her solo in the betrothal scene, when she had to dance wracked with sadness. As a Shade, she was truly ethereal, floating in her steps or zipping across the stage on the diagonal in super-fast turns and bourées.

Anna Tikhomirova’s Gamzatti, was one of the best I have seen. The young ballerina has a commanding presence, is assured, radiant and strong. She has the looks of a film star with large luminous eyes and a smile that would light up the National Grid. Tall and slim, she possesses eloquent arms, with legs that shoot (tastefully), up to her ears, and her balances are secure and well placed. However, it’s the combination of her fine technique with her clear, convincing dramatic input that makes her such a memorable dancer on stage. Her dedication and love for ballet permeates her performances, and everything is done with detailed attention and a clear idea of what the character should convey. Unlike most other interpretations where Gamzatti is cunning and cruel to the innocent young Nikiya, Anna gives her character much detail as well as a heart. She relays to Nikiya that she is after both riches and Solor and therefore will not give him up to a mere temple dancer. She watches him with eagle eyes each time the young girl appears and manages to distract him. But she is genuinely shocked when Nikiya dies, and quickly works out that it was her father who had decreed it, and so she runs away disgusted.

Solor has to work hard to come anywhere near the excellent performances of the two women and Alexander Volchkov had his work cut out for him. He has an easy, pleasing leap that skims the floor, and some nice jumps, though he doesn’t achieve the electricity of some other male dancers. However, his partnering was firm and careful. Sadly he is nursing an injury, which not only caused him challenges in some big steps, but was obviously to blame for the lack of fire in his acting.

Fortunately there were others who brought out drama and sparkle to the production: good acting from Alexander Fadeyechev as the High Brahmin; spritely leapings from Anton Savichev as the fakir, Magedaveya, while the Act II celebrations showed colourful performances from Kristina Karasyova, Denis Savin and Alexei Matrakhov in the exuberant drum dance; fun from Anastasia Stashkevitch’s Manu as she balanced her water jug on her head; and of course the powerful and muscular Golden Idol, performed by Mikhail Kochkan. All in all it was a spectacular performance.