The Prince of the Pagodas, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, June 2012

King Lear meets Sleeping Beauty in this mid-1950s fairy tale creation by John Cranko, to music commissioned from Benjamin Britten. After the Cranko ballet fell out of the repertoire, Kenneth MacMillan made his own version in 1989. This revival now contains some cuts to the music that he originally intended, but was not permitted to make.

The central character is Princess Rose, who leaves her father’s court, his crown having been taken by her elder half-sister, Princess Épine. She travels to the Other World, conquers her fears and returns to re-enliven the king, put Épine to flight, and become betrothed once more to her prince.

Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish, all images Johan Persson

Marianela Nuñez was a serenely beautiful Princess Rose, who danced divinely, and Tamara Rojo was enormously powerful as the scheming Princess Épine. Nehemiah Kish as the prince made a fine partner for Nuñez, and gave a strong performance as the salamander whose form he takes, testing Rose’s ability to show compassion and move beyond mere platonic love.

Nuñez and Kish in Act II

The four kings from Acts I and III, who appear in nightmarish form in Act II, were superbly danced by Bennet Gartside (north), Valeri Hristov (east), Steven McRae (west) and Ricardo Cervera (south), and despite the disguising make-up, McRae’s wonderful dancing gave him away, and his camp portrayal was glorious. The big male solo role of the Fool, who guides Princess Rose, was brilliantly performed by Alexander Campbell, and the whole company danced beautifully. Alastair Marriott was excellent as the old king who, like Lear, is apportioning his kingdom to his daughters. His body language reminded me of the Red King in Checkmate, and his recovery when Rose reappears was superbly performed.

The fine designs by Nicholas Georgiardis are well lit by John B. Read, and we have Monica Mason to thank for a well-judged revival of this MacMillan ballet. The large orchestra under the baton of Barry Wordsworth was once again in top form after the recent Salome, and considering the huge amount of work and careful attention to detail by the team responsible for this production it is astonishing the Royal Opera House made such a mess of the flowers at the end. Nuñez received three lovely bouquets, while Rojo merely got a small bunch wrapped in paper. Embarrassing for the Company, and something of an insult to a superb dancer who is leaving soon to become artistic director of the English National Ballet. She will be sorely missed and the audience roared their approval at her solo curtain calls.

Performances continue until June 29 — for details click here.

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