The Nutcracker, Royal Opera House, London

4.00

Magic Miyako's plum swansong

The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker is 25 years old this year, and still sparklingly sweet. Peter Wright has adjusted his production over the years, but it's kept its period warmth. On this first night, the cast was led by audience favourite Miyako Yoshida and new star Steven McRae, both at their best.

This is Yoshida's last season with the Royal Ballet. She joined the organisation in 1984, the same year Wright created this Nutcracker. After a decade as reigning ballerina of Birmingham Royal Ballet, she transferred to the London company. She's always been happiest in classical repertory. The Nutcracker's Sugar Plum Fairy brings out her clear line and porcelain delicacy.

Yoshida's dancing is light and exact. Here, she steps from pose to pose like someone walking serenely on eggshells – not a crack in sight. She spins crisply through her turns, and simply stops at the end of them. The theatrical impact comes from the fact that she doesn't need flourishing gestures: fireworks through understatement. McRae's dancing is bigger and bolder. He bounds into the air, or whips exuberantly through turns. They're well-matched: the scale of his movement makes a nice contrast to Yoshida's, while they're exuberantly in unison during the coda.

Iohna Loots is lively as the young heroine Clara. Her footwork is springy, and she scampers through the story with a sense of wonder. Ricardo Cervera, as the Nutcracker-come-to-life, matches her air of delight. He has a sturdy military bearing in the battle with the mice, with a buoyant jump and gentle partnering. He's delightful in the second-act mime solo, explaining his adventures in Wright's very appealing gestures.

The evening started slowly, with the party scene taking a while to warm up. The children's dances could be more exact, while the magician Drosselmeyer's conjuring tricks are too fussy. Tinkering with his production, Wright has beefed up the role of Drosselmeyer, who now sweeps through both acts flapping his turquoise cloak. He's too dominant a presence in what should be the Sugar Plum Fairy's kingdom. Yet Gary Avis plays the role with authority, grandly summoning magic.

Julia Trevelyan Oman's designs are packed with period detail, from the sleigh in which guests arrive to the lace and ribbons of the party costumes. Her frontcloth shows a picturesque German town, all spires and steep roofs, thick with snow. Bronze-winged angels shepherd the heroine to the Land of Sweets, crossing the stage in an endearing toddling glide. The Sugar Plum Fairy's kingdom looks elegantly edible, with twisted barley-sugar pillars. The production's big transformations are well-handled. The Christmas tree grows and grows, spurred on by Koen Kessels's meaty conducting of Tchaikovsky's score.

The Nutcracker has plenty of soloist roles, from party entertainments to national dances. Standards were very variable on opening night. As the Harlequin and Columbine dolls, Brian Maloney and Bethany Keating suggest the whirring of clockwork, with a vivid mechanical judder to their formal gestures. The national dances sagged, though energy levels went up for the Russian Dance. Cervera leads this number, diving into his final pose with dashing abandon. Helen Crawford made a shaky Rose Fairy, barely on top of her steps.

The corps de ballet were in crisp form for the snowflake waltz. Oman frames this scene with pine trees, snow lying heavily on their branches. Her costumes move beautifully: soft longer tutus in cloudy grey lace. The women arch and sway, fingers fluttering to suggest falling flakes. At a change in the music, snow really does start to fall.

In repertory to 1 January 2010 (020 7304 4000)

Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk