Even for Christmassy ballet, this is a show with a high sugar content.
Tales of Beatrix Potter, based on a film with choreography by Frederick Ashton, turns the Royal Ballet's dancers into cuddly livestock: Jemima Puddle-Duck on pointe. It's performed as a double bill with either Les Patineurs, Ashton's lovely skating ballet, or with Peter and the Wolf.
Matthew Hart created this version of Peter and the Wolf for students of the Royal Ballet School in 1995, before most of the present cast were born. Young dancers play Peter, most of the animals and the landscape of Prokofiev's story. Ian Spurling dresses the meadow in flowing green tulle, while the pond dancers wear blue with ruffled bathing-cap headdresses.
Hart's staging is brisk and cheerful, keeping its young cast moving. The students give quick, precise performances, rushing crisply into place. A central platform stands in for the tree, giving space for the animals to dance as they take refuge from the prowling wolf. In fact, everybody ends up hiding there: even the landscape finds its knees knocking when the wolf attacks. The duck is gobbled up behind the tree, in a well-timed puff of feathers.
Laurine Muccioli makes an elegant bird, stretching out her legs in flight. Charlotte Edmonds stands out as the self-important Duck, waggling her arms. Will Kemp is a charming narrator, confiding and energetic. Sergei Polunin, the other adult in the cast, plays the Wolf, with big, plush jumps. Polunin is a young star; it's not that long since he was at the Royal Ballet School himself.
Fluffy and often twee, Beatrix Potter is hated by critics and very popular with audiences. Anthony Dowell's staging has obvious faults. It's too long, with repetitive pacing and mimsy scenery by Christine Edzard. Even so, there are some deftly crafted dances in there, brightly danced at this performance.
Ricardo Cervera makes a dapper Johnny Town-Mouse, strutting with very neat feet. Laura Morera's Pig-Wig is deftly classical, while José Martí* manages to put some angry energy into Squirrel Nutkin. Jonathan Howells is a stylish Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, managing lavish upper-body movement despite his hedgehog prickles.
'Tales of Beatrix Potter' in rep to 10 January (020 7304 4000)