Anastasia, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

Kenneth Macmillan's Anastasia is a ballet, and a heroine, torn between two worlds. Its heroine is Anna Anderson, the woman who believed she was the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the only member of the Tsar's family to survive the revolution. It hardly matters that DNA testing has since proved her wrong; the ballet is about the loss of identity.

The one-act version of the ballet, made in 1967, is a jagged, expressionist dance to Martinu's Sixth Symphony. Film of the Imperial family flickers around Anastasia as she waits in an asylum; well-dressed well-wishers prod and interfere; memories torment her. In 1971, MacMillan added two acts, set to Tchaikovsky symphonies.

Before his death in 1992, MacMillan considered expanding the role of Rasputin for Irek Mukhamedov. His widow, Deborah, has adapted the last act on those lines, making Rasputin a more prominent figure in Anastasia's memories. The ballet hasn't been in repertory since 1997: this is the first time I had seen it. I suspect it's made little difference: Rasputin is still a shadowy figure at the edges, not really a role.

Leanne Benjamin dances powerfully as Anastasia, but she doesn't quite carry the ballet. In the first two acts, MacMillan gives her an odd little gesture: hands to shoulders, the tomboy child settling her collar. But Benjamin doesn't draw you into the heroine's dilemmas; she hasn't yet got under Anastasia's skin.

The Martinu act, with its images of confusion, is the strongest in the ballet. Those Tchaikovskies are more problematic. MacMillan sometimes strains to fill these expansive scores. The first act, an idyll on the Imperial yacht, marks time while the music finishes its patterns. The second shows a grand ball for Anastasia's coming-out. As the court circle and parade, MacMillan starts to pick out relationships among them. The Tsar's favourite ballerina sweeps in ready to make an impression. Miyako Yoshida is elegant in the ballerina's bravura pas de deux, making the most of its drifting arms and preening pauses. Johan Kobborg is a dashing partner, all smooth line and clean-cut beaten steps.

The world of Anastasia isn't consistently realised, but it comes powerfully to life in lucid moments and strong supporting performances. Joshua Maloney's Tsarevitch is a believably sulky little boy. Edward Watson is warmly protective as Anderson's peasant husband, always ready to anticipate her falls.

As the Tsarina, Genesia Rosato makes even accidental gestures part of the drama. In the ball scene, an ornament came loose on Benjamin's gown. Rosato, picking it up, made the moment part of her daughter's coming-of-age. A touch on Benjamin's arm urged her into the dance; a smile to the Tsar acknowledged this mother's need to protect her child, and to let her go.

In repertory to 12 May (020-7304 4000)