Arts Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Prince of the Pagodas
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Conceiving, creating and crafting ballets involve hard work. Audiences are not always appreciative, nor storylines straightforward nor colleagues co-operative in the journey to producing a popular ballet. As Company Director David Bintley brings his adaptation of The Prince of the Pagodas over to the UK with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Beth Baker-Wyse asks: has Bintley been able to breathe life into an unloved ballet? After an unsettled collaboration between British composer Benjamin Britten and choreographer John Cranko, a series of failed revivals and a re-staging by the Royal Ballet in 2012, David Bintley took charge of restoring The Prince of the Pagodas after inspiration came from the orient. Attempts have clearly been made to fashion a visually vibrant and family friendly production, with fundamental areas of the plot also adapted. Explaining that his is ‘a different kind of love story exploring a love of a girl for her brother, a father for his son and ultimately that of a family re-united after much trial and tribulation’, there is pathos to be found in what was criticized as a ballet with ‘intensity previously lacking’. With links made to Beauty and the Beast, The Sleeping Beauty, King Lear and Cymbeline, The Prince of the Pagodas tells the tale of Princess Belle Sakura (Momoko Hirata) and life following the loss of her brother (Joseph Caley) under the rule of the Emperor (Rory Mackay) and wicked Empress Épine (Elisha Willis). Rejecting the Kings of the North, East, South and West she is set to marry, Sakura falls for a Salamander of whom she discovers to be her brother. After travelling through the elements to reach Pagoda Land and overthrowing her evil step-mother, the Princess is re-united with her brother and the Emperor as they celebrate a unified Kingdom once more. Incorporating designs by the woman behind hit show War, Horse Rae Smith, the ballet picked out delicate elements of the East whilst showing an awareness of the constant threat Princess Sakura lived under. Hanging blossoms, silk gowns and Balinese dancers lay at odds with the boggle-eyed monsters, fiery women and creatures from another Kingdom. Details such as the four distinct chairs and weapons for each King made for a thoughtful and compelling visual tapestry, as is always with the company.
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