I had seen Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker once in the 1980s, but its performance by the Royal Ballet on Saturday was a revelation to me.   I had completely forgotten how, by beginning and ending the story with Herr Drosselmeyer, Wright gives the action a unity, logic and coherence that is often lacking in this ballet, which can so easily fall into two virtually separate parts.

The conjuring and special effects, above all the magical growing Christmas tree, entranced an audience that was liberally sprinkled with small children, but it was the quality of the dancing and the drama that made this performance a special one. It felt like a new ballet.

Anna Rose O’Sullivan’s Clara was lyrical with a lovely line and springy jump, although she sometimes seemed to slip out of character when she was not dancing; the children, however, acted their hearts out, particularly one young girl in a frock with a yellow sash, although their footfall was sometimes a little noisy on the stage. Nehemiah Kish as the Prince, on the other hand, showed that it is possible to land silently and Fumi Kaneko gave a crystalline, correct and restrained interpretation of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The most exciting performer, for me, was James Hay as Hans-Peter and the Nutcracker, for his acting as much as for his elegant dancing: the mime with which he described the fight with the Mouse King was a terrific piece of storytelling, and when at the end he was finally reunited with his uncle Drosselmeyer (played movingly by Alastair Marriott), I was astonished to find myself in tears. It was the only time that The Nutcracker has ever made me cry.

Maggie Watson

13 January 2016

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