Zenaida Yanowsky as Odette in Swan Lake photo Johan Persson

Photo by Johan Persson and (c) Royal Opera House

Going to anything at the ROH is a treat – a glittering, sumptuous, over-the-top way to spend an evening. Swan Lake was no exception to the ‘treat’ rule, and when Carlos Acosta is dancing Siegfried and Tamara Rojo is dancing Odette/Odile, you know it’s going to be something extra special. Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s production did not disappoint; it was, quite simply, gorgeous.

From set to costume to dance, the whole show was a controlled riot of glowing colour and whirling limbs, swelling music and impossibly impressive dance. If you’ve never done ballet, it looks effortlessly light, and it charms. If you have, you know it’s excruciatingly difficult, effortful and knackering, which makes the delicacy and skill admirable as well as impressive. Acosta can jump higher, and make it look easier, than any male dancer I have ever seen, and made a commanding and aesthetically pleasing prince. Rojo, who is tiny, made a desperate, elegant Odette and a sexy, calculating and cruel Odile, continually under the spell of Gary Avis’s pantomimically malevolent Von Rothbart.

Acosta and Rojo are a lovely pair, seeming to melt into one and another when they share steps, port de bras and lifts. The choreography is stunning mix of explosive passion (the ‘show-off’ moments for Acosta and Rojo!) and extremely tender, gentle movements which speak volumes. The entire company is impressive, and the generous chorography mixes up the ensembles and corps des ballets frequently, allowing most dancers a moment in the spotlight.

Avis’s Von Rothbart is wonderfully evil, dressed in a feathered, ragged cape, moving in a crouch and exploiting his power to hurt. His seemingly never-ending parade of swan-captives are well-danced, and the choreography is intelligent and varied. With waves and waves of white-clad dancers, the swans are hard to get right – it risks cliché and melodrama. Here, however, it is avoided, and we get the poignancy and the oppression without the simpering or too much arm-waving. Petipa and Ivanov have thought carefully about the shapes their dancers make individually and as a group, to great effect.

Tchaikovsky’s famous music was wonderfully conducted by Boris Gruzin, who seemed to be having a great time down in the pit. He coaxed the orchestra of the ROH into paroxysms of joy and despair, and reminded the audience why the tunes have become so well-known: the sweeping melodies and punchy tempo keep musicians, audience and dancers on their toes.