The Nutcracker, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

Ilove the realness of the party scene in the Royal Ballet's Nutcracker. Prettily dressed in period costume, the children are wonderfully natural and unaffected. They react individually: scared and thrilled by the magician's tricks, excited by presents, breaking into little conversations and arguments. You can see the ebb and flow of the party in the breaking of the Nutcracker doll. Clara's little brother is egged on to mischief by older friends. An adult sees what they're up to, and puts a stop to it – until she turns her attention elsewhere. I've never seen this scene so well-paced, or so spontaneous.

Last year, the same production was lacklustre. This time, it's been revived with real care, the story unfolding with unhurried conviction. The transformation scenes – growing Christmas tree, transitions to snowy forests or to the Land of Sweets – have a proper sense of wonder. Koen Kessels conducts a confident performance from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, though he might bring out more of the tingling detail in Tchaikovsky's score.

Julia Trevelyan Oman's first-act designs are all wintry prettiness. Snow lies thickly on steep medieval roofs or on pine trees. Life-sized angels, gliding through the action, have bronzed wings and stiff, striped skirts.

Peter Wright's 1984 production got fussier when he revised it in 1999, expanding the role of the magician Drosselmeyer. This is less of a problem when the role is played by Gary Avis. He's a beautifully understated magician, impressive but unbending, his emotions held in.

Miyako Yoshida is a lucid Sugar Plum Fairy, crisp and crystalline. Her prince was Federico Bonelli. His dancing is expansive as well as clear: there's a soft breadth to his movements, everything bold but unforced. The divertissement dances were variable. Laura Morera was an outstanding Rose Fairy, bringing out the nuance of every step. In the course of this dance, she teaches Clara a few steps. Morera gives that sequence an affectionate, explanatory polish. The national dances were woollier, needing more dash. In the first act, Yuhui Choe stood out as a Columbine doll.

Iohna Loots is an endearing Clara, reacting to the ballet's wonders with eager excitement. Ricardo Cervera is a stylish Nutcracker, moving easily between the role's dancing and character demands. He marches smartly through the mouse battle, then makes the most of retelling it as a story for the Sugar Plum Fairy.

To 10 January (020-7304 4000)

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