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Jan McNulty

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Prince of the Pagodas - Spring 2014

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Birmingham Royal Ballet open their Spring season with Prince of the Pagodas at the Lowry on 30th January 2014.

 

Could people please post their thoughts on performances of the work on this thread.

 

The Company has released a post about the creation of masks for the Salamander Prince.  Here is the link.

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Interesting. The synopsis of Bintley's ballet (which I hope to see at The Lowry at the end of the month or otherwise The Coliseum in March) seems to differ from Cranko's and indeed Macmillan's although both are based on Benjamin Britten's music. If and when I get to see it I will review it in my blog.

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I'm a little hazy about how composers of commissioned ballets actually work.   I know Ashton gave very detailed instructions to Henze when he commissioned the score for Ondine but is this the normal way it works?   Did Cranko present Britten with a script/scenario for Pagodas for the original production and is the script part of the copyright of the ballet?  Presumably the Britten estate does not control the story for Pagodas since MacMillan made changes from the Cranko version but didn't he have to get approval first?  I'm sure I read that the recent revival incorporated cuts that were not previously agreed by the composer.  

 

Musicals are frequently cut/changed in revival but the lyricists, composers and writers of the book are all clearly defined.  Ballet seems a bit of a grey area - who actually owns the production rights - the composer or the choreographer?

 

Looking forward to seeing Bintley's version of Pagodas anyway - such wonderful music should be heard, and danced to, far more often.

 

Linda

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I watched the premiere of Bintley's Prince of the Pagodas at National Ballet of Japan in 2011. It is a lovely piece, a great gift to the Japanese audience as much of the story had paid homage to Japan, and drawing the resurrection of a nation badly hurt, thus referring to the 3.11 earthquake in Japan (which Bintley himself experienced)

 

The artwork by Rae Smith was brilliant, and also the choreography was much fun and entertaining. I am so happy that this work will also be performed at BRB, and the two dancers Ayako Ono and Yudai Fukuoka from Japan will be guesting. 

 

Here are some clips of Prince of The Pagodas, rehearsal footage, Bintley's interview and presentation of the artwork.

http://www.atre.jp/11pagodas/movie/index.html

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Thanks for the link Naomi.  I think, as with Aladdin, that the set will have to be modified as the stages in Japan are enormous compared to what the UK can offer!

 

We will have a short taster at the Evening of Music and Dance at Symphony Hall on Friday evening in Birmingham. Then not long till the first performance at the Lowry...

 

I think we can assume that Momoko Hirata and Joe Caley are one of the casts as they are dancing the short excerpt on Friday.  Mathias Dingmas is, presumably, another Salamander as he featured in the article about the making of the face mask.

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Hello Janet,

 

I am not sure this is released in UK yet, but the dates for the guests (Ayako Ono and Yudai Fukuoka of National Ballet of Japan) performing at BRB are already announced in Japan

 

February 27th 19:30 & March 1st 19:30 at Hippodrome.

 

And Prince of the Pagodas will be back in Japan this June.

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No DQF, I expect it may be the end of this week at the earliest.

 

I had heard the dates for Ayako Ono and Yudai Fukuoka via Japan, Naomi, but nothing official yet.  I'm really upset that I can't make either of those dates because I thought they were both exceptional when I saw them in Aladdin.  It's a shame they are not doing more dates.

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I'm a little hazy about how composers of commissioned ballets actually work.   I know Ashton gave very detailed instructions to Henze when he commissioned the score for Ondine but is this the normal way it works?   Did Cranko present Britten with a script/scenario for Pagodas for the original production and is the script part of the copyright of the ballet?  Presumably the Britten estate does not control the story for Pagodas since MacMillan made changes from the Cranko version but didn't he have to get approval first?  I'm sure I read that the recent revival incorporated cuts that were not previously agreed by the composer.  

 

Musicals are frequently cut/changed in revival but the lyricists, composers and writers of the book are all clearly defined.  Ballet seems a bit of a grey area - who actually owns the production rights - the composer or the choreographer?

 

Looking forward to seeing Bintley's version of Pagodas anyway - such wonderful music should be heard, and danced to, far more often.

 

Linda

 

  http://dancetabs.com/2012/06/royal-ballet-the-prince-of-the-pagodas-london/

 

  This is a link to Jann Parry's discussion of the music in Prince of Pagodas and Ondine, it might not directly answer your question but it does raise some interesting points.

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Thank you for this link,  I must have missed it when the ballet was last performed.  A very thoughtful article and the comments also equally interesting.  I have to agree with the consensus that we have yet to see a perfect version of this unusual ballet.  I wonder if David Bintley has solved it?

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Sorry to be pedantic but this thread is headed 2013 and I nearly skipped over it.

Not pedantic at all! What a numpty I am! I've corrected the title. Thanks!

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My ticket from The Lowry for the 07:30 performance on the 30 Jan has just arrived.  A nice change from the usual bills and junk mail.

 

Is anyone else from this forum going to that performance?  If so, would he or she like to meet in the interval or before or after the show to say "hi" in person?

 

I will review the performance and cut and paste a copy of my review in this thread shortly afterwards.

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I thoroughly enjoy Prince of the Pagodas this evening. Great score, great designs, great choreography and above all great dancing. I will try to review it properly when I get home.

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I was up half the night on this review because I had to write it out of my system. That was because the Birmingham Royal Ballet's "Prince of the Pagodas" was so exciting. However it was not an easy ballet to review because it contained so much. A complex story, a wonderful score, magnificent designs and some really spectacular dancing. This ballet was created by Cranko and revised by MacMillan but never really stuck with audiences. I think this will be third time lucky and I certainly hope so.

 

"I have just returned from watching the first performance in the UK of David Bintley's Prince of the Pagodas. When I get back from a show at this time of night I usually make straight for bed and leave the review till at least the morning. But this performance was so good that a review won't wait until morning. I am so excited about it that I will not be able to sleep until I have written it out of my system.

The Prince of the Pagodas is not a new ballet. It was created by John Cranko in 1957, a choreographer for whom I have a particularly high regard  and has been revised by Kenneth MacMillan and Monica Mason. Bintley created the work that we saw last night for the National Ballet of Japan  in 2011.  He has now brought his work home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet. 

As you can see from the synopses of the National Ballet of Japan and the Birmingham Royal Ballet the story is based very loosely on King Lear. Bintley has made a number of modifications to the plot that distance it still further from Lear in that he substitutes a wicked stepmother for a wicked sister and the Cordelia character is called not Rose but Sakura which means Cherry Blossom. But the essentials from Lear of an ill used and ailing father and a devoted but alienated daughter are retained by Bintley.

Both the Japanese and Birmingham synopses omit important details.  Immediately before the curtain rose Tzu-Chao Chou sat in the centre of the stage.  He danced the jester or fool and was the link for each stage of the story from the welcome of the conductor to the rostrum to attending and supporting the imprisoned emperor in his confinement. A remarkable character artist  he brought humour to the ballet.  The kings of the cardinal points were dressed respectively as Uncle Sam, a Russian, a Zulu and something else which I am still trying to ascertain from the company's website, the "Creating Pagodas" blog and programme. Possibly a Pacific islander or a native American  Each bought a gift representing his culture: an elephant tusk from the African, a miniature oil well from the Russian, a cache of guns from the American and a long pipe from the fourth cardinal point.  Those characters appeared again as demons in red as Princess Sakura and her brother, the salamander, passed through fire on their escape from their wicked stepmother.

There is a lot of material in this ballet to which a review of a few paragraphs will never do justice so I shall focus on the essentials. First, Benjamin Britten's score has been the subject of more than a little criticism (see, for example, Judith Macrkrell's review of the Mason production in The Guardian of 6 June 2012).  I found it majestic, complex, delicate and varied.  I particularly enjoyed the gamelan sequences. I loved it all and would gladly listen to it again and again. I can see why Britten's music would be difficult to choreograph but I think Bintley has found the way.  The audience's attention was retained through a very complex story by some quite spectacular dancing from the entry of the four kings to a fight scene in the last act where the princess and the salamander rescue their father and send the wicked empress packing. Last but by no means least were Rae Smith's sumptuous designs - glorious backdrops of Mount Fuji, swirling elements and a salamander - and costumes with everything from sea horses to kimonos. I can't remember such a visual feast in any theatrical performance.

Bintley demanded a lot from his dancers but all were equal to the challenge: Joseph Caley and Momoko Hirata who danced the salamander and Sakura, Elisha Willis the wicked stepmother and Rory Mackay the emperor. Each of the four kings was splendid - Mathias Dingman as king of the north, Chi Cao the king of the east, James Barton king of the west and my favourite, Tyrone Singleton king of the south.

 

In the programme there is an article by Paul Arrowsmith entitled "Transforming and Unloved Prince". It notes that the ballet has never been popular with British audiences even though it was created and revised by a succession of great choreographers and considers why.  I think this version will be the one that sticks.  It certainly deserves to do so and I hope it will."

 

Yesterday I met Janet McNulty and renewed my acquaintance with DonQ Fan which was a great pleasure.  I was also pleased to meet Jennifer from Halifax which is not far from me.  I am delighted to meet folk with such entusiasm for, and extensive knowledge of, ballet and I look forward to seeing them again soon.

Edited by terpsichore
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so glad you liked it and your review has whetted my appetite even more.  My tickets arrived yesterday but I have to wait until 1st March in Birmingham.  My youngest DD has a 2 day workshop with BRB (including watching the matinee), taught by the dancers and it will be interesting to hear their views on what they are performing and how they prepared for it, as well as seeing what dances my DD learns on the repertoire day.

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........  My tickets arrived yesterday but I have to wait until 1st March in Birmingham.  My youngest DD has a 2 day workshop with BRB (including watching the matinee), taught by the dancers and it will be interesting to hear their views on what they are performing and how they prepared for it, as well as seeing what dances my DD learns on the repertoire day.

 

I am sure that you will enjoy the performance and that your daughter will enjoy dancing bits of it. There's plenty of good strong meat for her to get her teeth into. This is one of the occasions when I really wish I had learned ballet at the right age though I doubt I would ever have been good enough.

 

This ballet may not be everybody's cup of sake. It's a complex plot. There is nothing in the score that you can hum or whistle. But I think the choreographic pyrotechnics like the fight scene at the end and the gorgeous designs  will appeal to a wider section of the public than Cranko or MacMillan versions. 

 

I shall be interested to learn what you and others think and also the critics though I tend to disagree with most of them about most things.

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Terrific review Terpsichore.

 

I can't add much to what you said.  I thought Momoko Hirata was divine as Princess Belle Sakura and Joe Caley was magnificent as the Salamander Prince - especially in the Salamander sequences.  The traditional pas de deux for them near the end was spectacular.

 

I particularly enjoyed Rory Mackay as the Emperor; he brought great depth and meaning to the role.

 

I must also mention James Barton as the King of the West.  In the fight scene when he was knocked into touch, I could not take my eyes off him, he was hilarious as he was trying to get his rifle to work.

 

The orchestra was utterly magnificent and I found myself loving the score, especially the sequences that echoed a gamelan.

 

There is a lot to see and admire in this ballet and I am looking forward very much to the rest of the performances this week.

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There is a lot to see and admire in this ballet and I am looking forward very much to the rest of the performances this week.

 

I agree with all your comments about the dancers and orchestra.

 

I shall be interested to learn your views of other performances. Sadly I shall miss the rest of the Manchester season as I am off to London to see Sibley on Sunday but I will catch it again at The Coliseum later in the year.

 

I shall write a much longer essay about it later.  

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'....Yesterday I met Janet McNulty and renewed my acquaintance with DonQ Fan ....  I am delighted to meet folk with such entusiasm for, and extensive knowledge of, ballet and I look forward to seeing them again soon,...'

 

It 's good of you to say this, Terpsicore and though I can't speak for either, I'm sure both Janet and DQF will be pleased by your words. Most of us long-time Ballet-coers are similarly enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and you must be very pleased indeed to have found us at last.  Actually, you have made a promising start here yourself - long may you stay!

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'....Yesterday I met Janet McNulty and renewed my acquaintance with DonQ Fan ....  I am delighted to meet folk with such entusiasm for, and extensive knowledge of, ballet and I look forward to seeing them again soon,...'

 

It 's good of you to say this, Terpsicore and though I can't speak for either, I'm sure both Janet and DQF will be pleased by your words. Most of us long-time Ballet-coers are similarly enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and you must be very pleased indeed to have found us at last.  Actually, you have made a promising start here yourself - long may you stay!

 

Oh thank you Ann Williams x :-)

 

I do feel at home here but I am conscious of having ruffled more than a few feathers by linking to my blog after I first joined the forum and by not keeping my opinions on everybody's best loved ballet to myself.

 

I would never have posted such reflections on Giselle when my better half was alive. I would have been reminded very firmly to watch what I was saying if I wanted t keep my friends because I was not in court now. 

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Thank you, Terpsicore, for taking the time to write such a detailed review.  I am now more determined than ever to see this in London.

 

Linda

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I think I must be suffering ballet overload as I found The Prince of The Pagoda's "OK" - for me it was too darkly lit, especially as the stage surround sets were already black and I felt like I was peering into the dark most of the time.  I did not like the music much at all (bit too like Penguin Cafe which I also dislike).  Sadly this is not a ballet I will rush to see again unlike last year's Aladdin.  That's not to say the dancers weren't their usual great and the costumes fabulous! 

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