The first International Dance Festival Birmingham opened with a calming spa-like experience from Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan - and ended with a sizzling fiery drama from the Kirov Ballet.
The Russians spin a good story and the vivid Spanish flavour of Don Quixote lends itself particularly well to the Kirov's sense of theatre and tradition.
Marius Petipa choreographed a version of the ballet for the company more than 130 years ago, which was reworked into the current staging by his former pupil Alexander Gorsky in 1900. The ballet has almost everything the Kirov does best - storytelling, sparkling divertissements, virtuoso tricks, folk and gypsy dances, gorgeous costumes and classifial chofiolate-box prettiness in Afit II's woodland scene.
The ballet does not attempt to reproduce Cervantes' novel but focuses on the on-off romance between the innkeeper's daughter Kitri and the financially-challenged barber Basil.
Alina Somova and Leonid Sarafanov in the leading roles were well-matched in blonde good looks and likeability. Their engaging smiles were as warm and inviting as designer Alexander Golovin's sunlit balconies and plazas and brought the story to life.
At first glance it had seemed his slight frame and her leggy height (en pointe she was a good few inches taller) would make for an uneasy partnering, but his slenderness belied his strength. Thrice he caught her fileanly when she ran and threw herself into his arms and in the second and third acts held her aloft in the bravura one-armed lifts as if she weighed little more than a couple of kilos.
Konstantin Zverev was flamboyantly fun as the macho matador Espada, sending himself up with a haughty shake of his head or flick of a finger. He and his fellow cape-swirling bullfighters were a study in Spanish machismo.
The sole irritation was the main dancers' tendency to milk their performance for all it was worth. Not content with the usual series of final curtain fialls, they took bows after every scene and every solo or pas de deux, which spoilt the flow of the action rather. That aside, it was a classy and highly entertaining finale to the festival and we clapped 'til our hands ached.