Swan Lake, with Osipova and Golding, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, February 2015

The performance on 21 February was the best I’ve seen so far in the present run, not least because Boris Gruzin in the orchestra pit gave a superb rendering of Tchaikovsky’s score. It was far better than the brash energy of the first night — given no doubt after insufficient rehearsal time, since Gruzin has conducted Swan Lake many times.

This time he was able to bring out the light, shade and colours of this wonderful score, and it all clicked. In the Act I pas-de-trois, Akane Takada performed beautifully musical double turns, Megara Magri (replacing Emma Maguire) showed a gentle grace, and James Hay danced with huge bounce, wonderful beats and elevation. Elizabeth McGorian portrayed a powerful, dominating Queen Mother in Act I, with Matthew Golding, making his role debut as the Prince, suitably overwhelmed by her power. Yet in Act III he really began to dominate the stage in a solo that delighted his mother, only to see her utterly distraught after von Rothbart’s trick is revealed. These dramatic roles are of the essence, and Gary Avis is a von Rothbart of terrific charisma and stage presence. No one does it better.

As Swan Queen, Natalia Osipova showed an ethereal splendour in Act II, beautifully filling out the music, arms eloquent to the tips of her fingers. And the coolly attractive femininity of her black swan in Act III exuded a classiness that turned the head of both Queen Mother and Prince, entranced into forgetfulness of his beloved swan queen. In Act IV Avis as the sorcerer eloquently told him so, and he, the Prince and Odette were compelling in their dramatic portrayals. As the apotheosis began, two middle-aged women behind me started giggling — unbelievable, I know — though the final bars of the music kept everyone else in rapt enchantment.

Quite right too — musically a treat, and great ensemble work from the swans, including the half dozen young ones from White Lodge in Act II. Character dances in Act III were full of precision and joy, Yasmine Naghdi and Paul Kay a particular delight in the Neapolitan dance.

The orchestral performance is getting fully into its stride as the run progresses, but oh … I do wish for a new production. This one is looking very tired, as are the ridiculous extras in Act III, one of whom tripped on the stairs as he entered. Clunky and unworthy of the Royal Ballet.

Performances with various casts continue until April 9, along with a live cinema relay on March 17 — for details click here.

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