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The Prince of Pagodas review at Royal Opera House

In this evening of debuts, the whole company was in convivial spirits, shimmering through Macmillan’s Freudian fairytale of discovery and awakening with a united, polished enthusiasm.

No other ballet, I believe, ensures the sides of the stage itch with life as they do in Act I of The Prince of Pagodas; the baboon courtiers constantly fascinating in their individual portraits of monkey mannerisms – scratching, nibbling, swinging their arms and squatting in the most beautifully unballetic stances. Their presence sets the tone for the nightmarish psychological voyage to follow for Macmillan’s protagonist, Princess Rose.

Marianela Nunez inhabits the young princess, created originally for a 19 year-old Darcey Bussell, with a dewy viridity. Her chaines look gossamer-spun, her jetes like sudden delighted gasps. She is partnered admirably by Nehemiah Kish as the Salamander/Prince and contested powerfully by Tamara Rojo’s opulent performance as the selfish half-sister, Princess Epine, yet she steals the crown with every appearance, touching in her unaffected demeanour and downy-soft epaulement.

In a nod to Sleeping Beauty, Princess Rose is presented with four suitors – each with their own piquant and idiosyncratic physicality. Their phantasmagoric appearance in Act II culminates in a rousing pas de quatre – performed with miraculous precision by Bennet Gartside, Valeri Hristov, Steven McRae and Ricardo Cervera – with a devilishly tricksy menage.

Alexander Campbell as The Fool is also in his element in this whirligig part, displaying an enviable jump and an ability to push his personality through any amount of heavy stage makeup.

The Prince of Pagodas is a strange story and one that can be baffling for the uninitiated. Macmillan’s exotic choreography, however, is so nuanced and Britten’s score so intoxicating that it is easy to be drawn in to the ballet’s watery, dreamy atmosphere without fully understanding the plot.

The whole company looks on superlative form, sensitively spinning out every light and shade imbued by the great Macmillan.

Production Information

Royal Opera House, June 9-29

Kenneth Macmillan
Benjamin Britten
Royal Ballet
Dancers include
Marianela Nunez, Nehemiah Kish, Tamara Rojo, Alastair Marriott, Alexander Campbell, Bennet Gartside, Valeria Hristov, Steven McRae, Ricardo Cervera
Running time
2hrs 30mins

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