BENjAMIN BRITTEN – THE PRINCE OF THE PAGODAS – BBC – 1990
An maybe interesting ballet but
by far too long. Imagine bringing together Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, King
Lear, the famous Chinese character the Monkey, the four kings from the four
cardinal points and the four winds alluding to the four Chinese dragons. And
probably many other allusions. It is a potpourri of cultural allusions.
It is classical dancing and it is
entirely based on, as for the choreography, basic numbers, two, four, six,
eight, mostly and then here and there three, five and seven. Even twelve is
also used and sixteen. The whole palette of Christian and Jewish symbolism.
Does the music requite that? I do not think so. It is the vision of the choreographer,
or rather the amplification of Benjamin Britten’s own vision by the
choreographer. The four kings did not require such a heavy play on multiples of
Two sisters, one is a half-something.
No mother whatsoever and no mother-in-law of any sort. The father thinks he is
King Lear and like an old idiotic tired man of power decides to share his
kingdom between the two sisters. Good morning Vietnam. The non-half-sister has a
betrothed boyfriend but the half-sister turns him into a salamander. Then the
half sister summons four kings from the North, dressed in black, from the East
dressed in an effeminate flowery attire, from the West dressed in green and
from the South dressed in pink with golden skin. They bring presents for the
half sister, but that is purely decorative.
Of course the half sister seizes
power and the non-half sister goes beyond the looking glass into another world
and there she finds her salamander prince. It will all end up well when with one
kiss the non-half sister returns her salamander prince into his human shape. Then
she can help her wheel-chaired father to go back on the throne, to get rid of
her half sister and her four kings and to end up in a celebration of the legitimacy
of the two non-half sister and no-longer-salamander prince.
Sorry but in the time of Prokofiev
and a few other ballet composers, this is definitely trite. The music itself is
in no way original, spectacular, fascinating. It is a very standard if not banal
ballet music and the dancing to it is so “classical” that it becomes frankly
boring. It is dancing for people who do not know the world has changed since
1850. Why 1850? Just because it is a nice date.
But, and that is the score, the
second half, at least, of the third act is a series of dancing pieces for the
various groups of dancers, the various couples and the various solos. That adds
nothing to the ballet and we had already noticed these groups, these pairs and
these soloists. A pas-de-deux is a pas
de deux, though the choreographer seems to have invented two parallel,
mirror-like, symmetrical pas-de-un’s which are a pas-de-deux without any
contact between the two dancers of the couple. Like a play that was famous in a
theater in Charring Cross Road
in the early 70s by Alistair Foot and Anthony
Marriott: “No sex please, We’re British!”
I am disappointed at such a heavy
and hollow ballet with nearly no plot, with no real magic and with no really
innovative dancing. Even in 1990 there were quite more creative ballets in the
world. In fact it was more a Jacobean masque without any text than a real
ballet for even the end of the 20th century.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU