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.
Benjamin 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.
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 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.
The undersea creatures included seahorses, spider crabs and squid.
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.
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.
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.