Tchaikovsky's Russian love triangle - the tale of Odette, Odile and Prince Siegfried - has toured the world for 135 years, and it seems it will never get old.

The Imperial Ice Stars of Russia, who returned to perform Swan Lake in Auckland this week, have taken the famous production to a new level, replacing ballet shoes with ice skates and adding jaw-dropping acrobatics.

They take us back to a time when men turned pirouettes rather than break-danced to impress women at parties. A time when a kiss on the hand signalled eternal love. An era when being dizzy with love referred to a man holding his lady above his head and spinning faster than the eye could see.

The challenge with Swan Lake is to convey, using no words whatsoever, that most of the lead characters exist somewhere between the worlds of humans and birds.

Perhaps if he had written it in modern times, Tchaikovsky might have chosen the semi-human existence of vampires or werewolves, which would have been easier to perform. But he chose to make them part avian, and for more than a century, his story has been told through the delicate, calculated movements of some of the best ballet dancers in the world.

Shifting the performance to an ice rink may seem an easier task - glide across with your arms outstretched and voila, a swan - but this group of ex-European skating champions take it much further.

The dark, bare-chested male swans puff their feathers, flex their muscles and do what the most ostentatious of avian male specimens would - impress, but with jumps and back-flips. Meanwhile, the petite white swans mimic nature as they billow in and out of intricate formations - the only oddity being that they appear to have hooves for feet, but you quickly stop noticing the skates. Odette even flies.

Odile and the evil Baron Von Rothbart's swift, death-defying moves are made even more chilling by the fact that they are balancing on a set of razor-sharp blades.

Energy peaks after the intermission with the elaborately costumed and acrobatic routines at Prince Siegfried's 21st birthday. A costume highlight is the group of men in velour trackpants, knee-high white boots and glittery cropped waistcoats. Sinewy Odile, of course, steals the show, and the marriage proposal. The moment when Odette stumbles upon her beloved Prince and the black swan wrapped in the throes of their passion is as gut-wrenching as the ballet's composer would have wanted.

Topped with the frightening stunts of the finale, the Russians gave the audience a treat that did not stray from the beauty of the original - a long-standing ovation said it all.

What: Swan Lake
Where and When: ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, until Sunday