Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ballet Review: 15 June

Another world… super ficially exotic but full of irresistible menace

Written by Gillian SpickernelI


After an absence of many years, the Royal Ballet's new staging of The Prince Of The Pagodas – Sir Kenneth MacMillan's big three-act ballet – makes an immediate impact.

Combining elements of King Lear (an ageing emperor who divides his kingdom unequally between his two daughters) and The Sleeping Beauty (the four suitors who contend for the hand of the princess), the ballet feels like an adult drama rather than pure fairytale. A twist comes with its oriental setting: the pagodas just outside the confi nes of the castle and the disturbing elements of an ordered world gone awry (the grotesque simian courtiers).

There's no Nutcracker-style journey to the Land of the Sweets here but rather a surreal sense of discovery as Princess Rose searches for her prince (who has been turned into a salamander by her half-sister, the spiteful Princess Epine) through a landscape of shifting castles.

Not easy music to dance to, Benjamin Britten's score had a troubled history from the beginning of its creation in 1954. Originally choreographed by John Cranko, the ballet was quietly dropped until MacMillan took up the musical challenge in 1989. His choreography, with its twisting lifts and leaps, stretches and challenges the dancers. Set designs of watery pagodas against smoky oriental skies by Nicholas Georgiadis contrast with his heated colours of the court interior. The result is stunning – music, set and dancing blending to make an immediate impact on the eye.

As Princess Rose, Marianela Nuñez conveys her character's inner grace with just a turn of her head, and her compassion with the beautiful carriage of her arms as she comforts the scaly salamander. Never once does she succumb to the tactics of Princess Epine, superbly danced with frosty hauteur by Tamara Rojo.

The audience is led into another world, superficially exotic but underpinned by menace. Ricardo Cervera as King of the South is particularly repellent with his obvious, overbearing sensuality.

Nehemiah Kish was more compelling when trapped on the ground as a slithery salamander than as the eponymous Prince. Yet his pas de deux in Act III with Nuñez gave her a chance to shine.

Against this surreal drama, the ending – with full company on stage in a conventional dance finale – seemed curiously out of place. Order was restored, and there was a satisfying sense of closure in the final, memorable tableau: the betrothed prince and princess surrounded by a newly restored court.

On 18, 21, 27, 29 June, at the Royal Opera House: 020-7304 4000,

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