From the first, in 1956, when Benjamin Britten made the score for John Cranko’s dances and his addled scenario, there was too much music. Cuts were made by Britten, but thereafter the pruning hand was discouraged and the score remained a magnificent stumbling block to dramatic choreography.
At this performance the Royal Ballet showed us its newly revised version of Kenneth MacMillan’s The Prince of the Pagodas, his last full-length ballet, first seen in 1989. MacMillan, seeking to restore this important dance-score to the stage, was allowed to edit, but not enough. His choreography, a homage to the Petipa ballets which had formed him as a dancer, was hobbled by Britten’s over-abundant if dazzling music. Now, with the sanction of the Britten Trust, further cuts (some 20 minutes) mean that the Royal Ballet has been able to delete stretches of writing for the corps de ballet (the second act is now lean, dramatically purposeful) and to trim the action. The result is honourable as an account of MacMillan’s vision, and a not inconsiderable reminder that he was grandly skilled in making pur-sang academic dances.
The narrative is a fairy-tale of sorts. The dance is ever-resourceful, musically feat, and makes Cranko’s original narrative (the Brothers Grimm over-concerned with King Lear) more intriguing. There is much on which I hope to report after further viewings: suffice it to say that Marianela Núñez gives a performance as the heroine, Belle Rose, of sweetest innocence, of adorable bravura, emotional grace, and is everywhere an artist of exquisite finesse, her line ravishing, eloquent.
The cast is, throughout, admirable: Tamara Rojo a gleaming monster as the inevitable wicked sister, Belle Epine; Nehemiah Kish a handsome Salamander Prince for Belle Rose to love, and Alexander Campbell intriguingly the mysterious Fool who is Belle Rose’s guiding spirit. The four Kings, suitors for Belle Rose, are vividly, grandly taken by Bennet Gartside, Valeri Hristov, Steven McRae, Ricardo Cervera.
The orchestral playing under Barry Wordsworth was very fine – the score is a treasure-house – the Georgiadis design still admirable, and the choreography important. A fine, fine achievement.