The Merry Widow Hong Kong Ballet Cultural Centre Grand Theatre Reviewed: May 18-19 Ronald Hynd's The Merry Widow, which was created in 1975, has been performed by numerous companies worldwide and it's easy to see why. With its vivid characters, well-crafted choreography, gorgeous designs and irresistible score, this is truly that rare and wondrous thing: a classic three-act ballet. The story, based on Lehar's famous operetta, takes place in Belle Epoque Paris, where Hanna, a rich widow from the fictitious land of Pontevedro, is seeking a new husband. Pontevedro is bankrupt, so to prevent Hanna's millions leaving the country, the ambassador wants her to marry a Pontevedrian and selects the handsome but drunken Count Danilo to court her. Unknown to him, however, Hanna and Danilo were in love 10 years earlier. He broke off their romance because she was a peasant girl, but they've never forgotten each other. Further complications arise from the love affair between the elderly ambassador's pretty young wife, Valencienne, and Camille, the French Attache. Misunderstandings, laughter and tears ensue. This forms the vehicle for a cornucopia of dancing - exquisite duets for the two pairs of lovers, leaping, stomping Pontevedrian folk dancing and glorious waltzing. Hynd is a master of characterisation in dance, the details of the acting being built into the choreography, and The Merry Widow exemplifies his flair for comedy and pathos without sentimentality. The production was rehearsed by Hynd and Hong Kong Ballet's artistic director John Meehan, the original Danilo 32 years ago. Their coaching showed in the dancers' confidence and understanding of the ballet, while guest conductor James Tuggle brought a sparkling performance from the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. On the first night, Faye Leung and Zhang Yao (left) made a strikingly glamorous lead couple, with Crystal Costa and Liang Jing a delightful Valencienne and Camille. At the matinee the next day, Wu Fei Fei and Wei Wei, two young dancers to watch, gave a thrilling performance as Hanna and Danilo - funny, passionate and touching. There were superlative character roles from Wang Jia-hong, Conrad Dy-Liacco and Yuri Ng, and a spectacular Act 2 solo from Li Jia-bo.