Insight evening: The Prince of the Pagodas, Clore Studio @ ROH – reviewed on 23rd May
The Prince of the Pagodas was first choreographed in 1957 by John Cranko. Kenneth MacMillan created another version in 1989 with Darcey Bussell taking the lead role to critical acclaim.
Barry Wordsworth, Music Director of the Royal Ballet, described Benjamin Britten’s Prince score as full of “joie de vivre” and a “kaleidoscope of emotions and contrasts”. Chairman of the Britten Estate, Colin Matthews, stated: “Britten was used to writing for opera. Here he was free of the need to balance the music with vocalists so the score is full of life and energy.”
For the Royal Ballet’s 2012 production, the music has been revised, with changes in the running order and some cuts, designed to make the story clearer. Wordsworth stated “it’s nothing like the cuts that were made to Swan Lake to make it good!”
Wordsworth then highlighted the ways in which Britten was able to build a character through music, with Robert Clark playing extracts on the piano. For example, there are four variations for four kings and each shows a different personality; the King of the East’s music is exotic and moody.
Britten found it particularly difficult to write Act 2, but a trip to Bali inspired him. He created a version of Indonesian Gamelan music (which heavily features tuned percussion) using Western instruments.
Jonathan Cope then rehearsed Ryoichi Hirano and Beatriz Stix-Brunell in the Act 3 pas de deux, a duet involving enormous lifts and difficult musical timing. Cope himself danced the Prince in MacMillan’s version of the ballet. He loved using classical shapes but putting a twist on them with unusual grips and positioning. It was very difficult then, but dancers find it easy now as they are so used to performing in different styles. Cope especially enjoyed dancing the salamander solo as it involves a lot of floor work, which makes it more interesting that most other Prince roles. In his coaching, the most important thing for Cope is to allow dancers to find their own personalities in the choreography, so that the ballet develops over time.
The Royal Ballet’s new production premieres on 2nd June at the Royal Opera House with Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish taking the lead roles.