When the curtain goes up on The Nutcracker, Christmas rolls into the city.
Sir Peter Wright’s production of the time-honoured classic is just about the best on the planet, and with its abundance of magic has never been surpassed.
Sir Peter has an extraordinary understanding of the demands of ballet and the special art of story-telling through movement which this piece demands.
Every stage effect enhances and develops the underlying theme of a young girl’s rite of passage to bliss, something undertaken by Clara, (the elegant Momoko Hirata) who moves seamlessly from child to womanhood, meeting the prince of her dreams during the course of an enchanted evening.
But Peter Wright has a clear grasp of the dark nether world through which these extraordinary acts of benign magic are created. The opening sequences of the ballet, set in the 1870s where a huge Christmas party is being held, carries hints of the magic to come.
Outside a large window, things make sinister noises in the snow and the hired magician is Drosselmeyer, (Iain Mackay who achieved brilliance in the role) an enchanter who can bring dolls to life, create lightning flashes and repair irreparably damaged nutcracker dolls at will.
When Mackay thrusts that powerful arm into the air, a magic force is being summoned out of the universe, and it is enough to make a domestic Christmas tree transform, to cause a house to disappear and to usher in terror in the form of a kingly rat with a diamond crown worn rakishly over one ear (Yasuo Atsuji).
Sir Peter combines all these elements beautifully and imaginatively. The snow falls in a land deep under the ice, the great Winds ( four stalwart young men) hurtle across the stage risking life and limb, and Clara finally sets off to the Kingdom of the South flying high in the air on a white swan to be welcomed again by Drosselmeyer.
The theatre always falls into silence when the Arabian dancers drift gently into view, as fine as ever this year, with joyful playing from Royal Ballet Sinfonia.
But there were cheers for the other novelty dancers, the shyly delicate Chinese duo (Max Maslen and Nathanael Skelton) in particular.
The climax is the arrival of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her escort - danced with a fine understanding by Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao who show you what classical ballet is all about. A special note of appreciation must also go to Marion Tait’s gentle Grandmother, still touchingly dancing the student dances from her youth at the grand Act One party.
Sir Peter, whose genius created this miracle for us 20-odd years ago, was in the house on opening night. In his firm hands, the city was, once again, given a masterpiece.
Runs until December 12.