The Prince of the Pagodas

the_prince_of_the_pagodas_momoko_hirata_as_princess_belle_sakura_and_joseph_caley_as_the_salamander_prince_photo_richard_battye

Momoko Hirata as Princess Sakura and Joseph Caley as the Salamander: Photo Richard Battye

A dying emperor, a wicked sister, a strange journey under the sea led by a Prince who has been turned into a salamander. Sounds like your kind of thing? Then you might be up for The Prince of the Pagodas, a ballet with a fantastical plot and lots of gorgeous and imaginative costumes. Throw in a new production with a strong Japanese influence and you won’t be able to resist.

Prince of the PagodasBenjamin Britten wrote the score for the ballet in 1957 for choreographer John Cranko. Kenneth Macmillan did a version of it in 1989 with Darcey Bussell as the good princess Belle Rose. And now David Bintley has given us a new Japanese-inspired version.

Elisha Willis as Empress Épine and Rory Mackay as the Emperor; photo: Phil Hitchman

Elisha Willis as Empress Épine and Rory Mackay as the Emperor: Photo Phil Hitchman

It was premiered by the National Ballet of Japan (of which Bintley is Director as well as running our own Birmingham Royal Ballet – busy man!) in 2011. Birmingham Royal Ballet have now revived it and brought their production to the London Coliseum for a painfully short four day run. I just managed to catch the last day.

The Prince of the PagodasThe sets and costumes are by designer Rae Smith, who also designed War Horse. The designs were inspired by the work of ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi, including his rather amazing comic-horror Japanese monsters, known as Yokai.

Joseph Caley as the Salamander Prince with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Yokai: Photo Bill Cooper

Joseph Caley as the Salamander Prince with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Yokai: Photo Bill Cooper

The undersea creatures included seahorses, spider crabs and squid.

Ayako Ono as Princess Bell Sakura with Artists of the National Ballet of Japan as Sea Horses: Photo Hidemi Seto

Artists of the National Ballet of Japan as Sea Horses: Photo Hidemi Seto

Momoko Hirata as Princess Belle Sakura and Elisha Willis as Empress Épine with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Undersea Creatures: Photo Bill Cooper

Momoko Hirata as Princess Belle Sakura and Elisha Willis as Empress Épine with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Undersea Creatures: Photo Bill Cooper

Princess Belle Rose has, not surprisingly, become Princess Sakura (cherry blossom) and in true Japanese fashion the happy ending takes places under a shower of falling cherry blossom petals.

The Prince of the PagodasThere’s a Balinese scene in deference to Britten’s Balinese influence, including his use of gamelan music. The designs are gorgeous and authentic in feel, one of the main pleasures of the production.

Momoko Hirata as Princess Belle Sakura and Joseph Caley as the Salamander Prince with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Balinese Women: Photo Bill Cooper

Momoko Hirata as Princess Belle Sakura and Joseph Caley as the Salamander Prince with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Balinese Women: Photo Bill Cooper

In an additional Japanese twist, the role of Princess Belle Sakura was danced at the performance I saw by BRB Principal Momoko Hirata. She’s originally from Gunma in central Japan and won the Prix de Lausanne in 2001. She joined the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2003 after studying at the Royal Ballet School. She’s know for her technical ability, steely strength and the lightness of her dancing, and was beautifully light and charming as the put-upon princess.

Momoko Hirata as Princess Belle Sakura and Joseph Caley as the Prince: Photo Roy Smiljanic

Momoko Hirata as Princess Belle Sakura and Joseph Caley as the Prince: Photo Roy Smiljanic

Sadly the run of The Prince of the Pagodas has ended, but watch out for it to return to the repertory in future. Or you can catch it in Tokyo June 12-15th.

8 thoughts on “The Prince of the Pagodas

    • It had been touring the country before that – starting in Birmingham, of course. But yes, it would have been nice if it had stayed longer in London. Maybe it will come back next year.

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  1. This looks amazing! I really wanted to see it but couldn’t make it to London, and sadly I will be leaving Tokyo on 10th June so I can’t see it there either. Thanks for sharing this post though!

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