David Bintley’s new ballet has a unifying fairytale theme which links it to Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet of the same name, and in turn to John Cranko’s Prince of the Pagodas.
Bintley has done well to bring some validation to Benjamin Britten’s uncomfortable music, which is not really dance music at all.
The score may work on the concert platform but as a ballet it is frustrating and aggravating, not to mention soporific with angular and spiky love themes which often bear no relation to the general plot or choreography.
It certainly sets the ballet up for cutting at the moment it approaches three hours, which is too long.
But it is all splendidly designed with the Japanese theme beautifully stated in dazzling costumes and settings, which delight the eye and make each new scene an occasion for marvelling at the ingenuity of Rae Smith’s creations.
For example, upstage is a stylised version of Mount Fuji, where the distressed Emperor (Rory Mackay in a strong performance) can find solace as his world of statesmanship is taken from him by the wicked machinations of his corrupt Empress (Elisha Willis) anxious to marry off his daughter, Princess Belle Sakura (the superbly talented Momoko Hirata).
A court Fool ( Tzu-Chao Chou) pleasantly cheeky in the way of court Fools, sees through the Empress’s destructive plans and supports the ageing Emperor. It’s a witty touch and makes sense, as does the arrival of the four suitors for Belle Sakura’s hand in marriage.
But I have my doubts about this ballet’s popularity with audiences as the seasons move along. On opening night there were plenty of seats.
Still, the sheer beauty of what you see unfolding on stage is a total delight.
And there are the curiously camp, weak-kneed monsters who threaten Belle Sakura in the sequence set beneath the ocean. This is Bintley’s allowable panto moment lacking only Brian Conley as Robinson Crusoe. Basically if you get lost in the confusing plot, you can always revel in the costumes.
Runs until March 1.