Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Prince of The Pagodas

A few weeks ago Owen and I went to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of THE PRINCE OF THE PAGODAS, the only ballet that Benjamin Britten wrote the score for.

It was created in 1957 by the Royal Ballet but has had a checkered past with choreographer John Cranko's libretto coming in for most of the criticism.  Here it was presented in a new version by choreographer David Bintley.  Once I found out it was Britten I was doubtful if I would manage to stay the course as I have never understood the appeal but I found it the best part of the evening - apart from the ice-cream of course.

The plot still needs work: a princess is grieving for her brother who died mysteriously some years before and whose stepmother has taken control of the court while the emperor pines for his lost son.  A parade of possible suitors includes a mysterious Salamander prince who the princess escapes with.  They journey to his kingdom through water and fire and eventually she discovers that the prince is her assumed-dead brother and together they journey back to over-throw the wicked Empress.

The critics have a point, the plot felt like it was stitched together from many different stories and ultimately was only there to give a framework to the bouncing about.  The problem was I just didn't engage with it despite Rae Smith's visually exuberant sets and Peter Teigen's lush lighting.

I have never been a classical ballet fan.  While sitting in the Coliseum my mind went back to the 1980s when the late Martin Taylor took me to see Natalya Makarova in ONEGIN and saying in the interval that he hoped I was aware I was seeing a great performance.  Actually I thought she had already given a great performance in the Rodgers & Hart musical ON YOUR TOES a couple of years before especially when she played the cabaret dancer in the exhilarating "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue" number.

I also think that I was a fan of Isadora Duncan from an impressionable age and agreed with her quote that it was "a school of affected grace and toe walking".  So I can never be swept away by classical ballet, all I see is the court entertainment and piss-elegance of the extended curtain calls.

I am not a fan of opera either, primarily because I find it hard to engage with the distilled forms - the voice with opera, the body with ballet.  One cannot doubt the expertise of the dancers but give me the excitement of Matthew Bourne's productions any day.

I did like the sea horses though!

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