The Prince of the Pagodas was a completely new experience and a delightful one, coming from someone that knows Britten best for his operas and questioned initially whether his style was quite right for ballet. The Prince of the Pagodas is a very interesting ballet, time will tell if it ever becomes a personal favourite. The story is charming and always has a sense of fun. Britten's music has been criticised for being unmemorable, too glum, un-danceable, too heavy and having musical ideas that don't turn the corner enough. Understandable, but not an opinion this viewer shares. It was sensual, enchanting and very cleverly crafted, with Britten's typically wonderfully varied orchestral colours and sounds as well as some nice touches of exotic Gamelan-like style music. Different in style to what is usually heard in ballet, but in some way in a refreshing way. As for the un-danceable statement, it is definitely tricky but then again Prokoviev's Romeo and Juliet was considered un-danceable too.
This performance is beautiful to watch and is a treasure. The sets- though with a few sparsely lit ones- and especially the costumes are spectacularly sumptuous. The orchestra don't seem too taxed by the demands of Britten's score, they perform it with a great sense of style as well as beauty of tone, paying also close attention to the clever orchestral writing. The conducting does what any conductor ought to, keeps things moving swiftly and clearly while leaving room to breathe. Kenneth MacMillan does wonders choreographing. His ideas are tasteful, sensitive to Britten's music and make sense within the story. The prologue is appropriately eerie, the four Prince variations are varied and characterful and the Water, Air and Cloud dances are both beautiful and thrilling. The dancing is exemplary, making the difficult choreography seem easy. Darcey Bussell captivates in the principal role, with clean and gracious technique and a charming and expressive stage presence while made to act prim. Fiona Chadwick also dances with great elegance, while Jonathan Cope shows power and great involvement in the music, story and what he's dancing. Anthony Dowell makes a doddering role powerful and moving in equal measure. In fact, all the dancers are great, but it's Bussell's show and she doesn't disappoint.
As for the technical values for the DVD- picture, sound and video directing- they're right on the money. Clear and sharp for the picture and sound and with the video directing it's unobtrusive and while not quite cinematic is still broad enough to capture everything and do it tastefully(thankfully for example there are no cut-offs of people's feet). All in all, a very interesting ballet, beautiful to watch and a splendid production overall. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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