Review: Sir Peter Wright's Swan Lake, Birmingham Royal Ballet – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
When the curtain rises for the beginning of act four, a thick blanket of smoke-machine mist breathes over the stage and rolls into the band pit, drawing a controlled, slightly hushed "ooh" from the audience.
But when a dozen ballerina swans suddenly rise from under the wispy duvet, having been totally hidden from view, all control is lost: there are loud gasps and spontaneous applause.
This outbreak of appreciation is not an isolated incident during Thursday's opening night of Birmingham Royal Ballet's astonishing version of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece.
Céline Gittens, in the lead role of Odette/Odile, whips out a dizzying 32 fouette turns (although my grade-five companion swears she hit 34 tonight), after which Brandon Lawrence, as Odette's royal love interest Prince Siegfried, joins in with a collection of his own.
Another crowd-pleaser is the lauded Dance of the Cygnets, as Reina Fuchigami, Rachele Pizzillo, Emma Price and Lynsey Sutherland merge into a single mass of blurred legs, showcasing a mind-boggling dedication to precision and synchronicity.
Special mention also goes to Riku Ito as Benno, Siegfried's best mate who tries to chivvy his chum after the Queen Mother insists her son settles down with a comely princess. Riku absolutely owns act one with some astonishing aerial leaps, finest among them a couple of cabriole which leave him hovering for a split second longer than physics should allow.
Sadly, Riku makes only fleeting appearances in the remaining three acts, but his lasting impact is such that he receives the loudest cheer during curtain call.
The costumes, many of them over 40 years old, are something to behold, with the ambassadors in act three especially elaborately adorned, like deranged Asterix characters dragged backwards through the Game of Thrones wardrobe.
Jonathan Payn plays a phenomenal panto villain in Baron von Rothbart, the dastardly magician who's so very eager to marry off his daughter into the royal family. Indeed, he is greeted by a healthy round of jeers during his final flourish.
If I'm being (extremely) picky, there are a couple of synchro issues in the courtyard during act one, and an unfortunate slip in act four – probably to do with moisture left by the terrific fog sheet – but these seem so very petty to bring up when such a sumptuous performance left me on the verge of buying tickets for a second show.
The applause at the final curtain is lengthy, but still doesn't seem enough.
- Swan Lake is at Mayflower tonight (Friday), with two shows tomorrow. To book tickets visit www.mayflower.org.uk/whats-on/brb-swan-lake-2023/