Search - Britten - The Prince of the Pagodas / Bussell, Cope, Chadwick, Dowell, MacMillan, Royal Ballet on DVD

Britten - The Prince of the Pagodas / Bussell, Cope, Chadwick, Dowell, MacMillan, Royal Ballet
Britten - The Prince of the Pagodas / Bussell Cope Chadwick Dowell MacMillan Royal Ballet
Actors: Darcey Bussell, Jonathan Cope, Anthony Dowell
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2005     3hr 14min

Sir Kenneth MacMillan's glorious version of The Prince of the Pagodas provides a fascinating and magnificent spectacle of classical dance on the grandest scale. Nicholas Georgiadis' enchanting designs complement Britten's ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Darcey Bussell, Jonathan Cope, Anthony Dowell
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Dance, Educational, Classical, Ballet & Dance
Studio: Kultur Video
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 05/31/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 3hr 14min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A Britten treasure and a MacMillian masterwork
Daniel Fergus Tamulonis | New York, New York | 04/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"My love affair with the beautiful score of this ballet goes back to the days of its London LP life, when I would listen to it for hours in my room and dream of what the ballet would look like. Decades - just a few - later, long after having fallen under the spell of Britten's "Death in Venice," "Billy Budd" and of course, "Peter Grimes" I was spellbound when I saw the laser-disk version of this ballet playing in a Tower Records store. I rented the VHS version innumerable times and debated shelling out the $70 for my own copy. Then it disappeared. But, just in time, the Royal Ballet made a rare appearance in New York City with its revived production of "Prince of the Pagodas.' I was in standing room at the Met for every performance and would do the same today. It is a remarkable ballet in every sense. MacMillian did right to throw out the original scenario and created a darker and much richer - if, albeit, more complicated - story.

I disagree strongly with those who say there are no melodies in Britten's amazing, breathtaking score. I can still remember sitting up, with chills, when I first heard it, years ago. That same thrill takes me every time I hear it. There are so many memorable passages, from the eerie, rather threatening horns in the Prologue (which MacMillian uses to great effect in his new scenario), to the variations of the Four Princes, to the Salamander's motif and glorious expansion, to the Fire, Water, Air and Cloud dances, to a set of stunning celebratory dances which fill the last act of the ballet and which, in MacMillian's endlessly amazing choreography, become even more sumptuous and thrilling.

The Princess Belle Rose's journey of self-discovery through the piece is heartbreaking and estactic, especially as danced by Ms. Bussell. Her dances with the King of the South, with the Salamander-Prince and especially with the ageing King are full of beauty and passion. And indeed, Anthony Dowell's performance as the doddering King, (on the DVD and certainly, powerfully, in the live performance), must remain as one of the most moving dance portraits in the repertory. It is a wild and unpredictable ride in this ballet, and the opening chaos of the Monkey Court, with an absolutely hair-raising dance of the Monkey-Courtiers, are unforgettable moments of great dance theatre.

It was said that Prokofiev's score for 'Romeo and Juliet' was undanceable and I have heard that same criticism here and elsewhere about Britten's music for this ballet. MacMillian, ironically, with both ballets, has proven all those naysayers utterly wrong.

If you can take a chance and are not afraid to listen - and watch - more than once, there is a wonderful, nearly unlimited range of delights in this overlooked score and grossly under-rated production."
Wonderful Ballet
P. Linkletter | New York, NY United States | 08/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Prince of the Pagodas is a lovely, enchanting ballet by Benjamin Britten that is just a little too outside the mainstream for some vociferous, though musically limited, people to appreciate. As if to challenge forever such ignorant opinions, this video clearly demonstrates how the score is FILLED with elegant, original, sensuous music that not only uses gamelan as an influence but a rich tapestry of thematic development that is more Beethoven than Tchaikovsky. And Britten's music can unashamedly stand in the company of either. Yes, sometimes the sounds are spare, lean, small. Sometimes they are anything but. But it is all worthy and memorable for anyone who can "hear" it. Perhaps all it needs is a listener with a slightly sophisticated ear. The Kenneth MacMillan choreography that accompanies this great score is simply wonderful. It does lean heavily on classic ballets of the past, but it just as often goes its own way with some very striking sequences that do not call to mind anyone else. Besides, using ideas that work from the past to enrich the present is hardly a flaw. Britten is a perfect example of the glorious results that can come from such thinking. (Try the dances for the four suitors or the pas de deux when the prince has been turned into a reptile to get a good taste of both Britten's and MacMillan's work.) The dancing is spirited, beautiful, emotional, elegant, controlled, and enrapturing. The sound, playing, and videography are all superb. All in all, a great work done worthily. The documentary that is included is informative and easily taunts with snippets from works that would be good to see."
A Vivid Theatrical And Choreographic Masterpiece!
J. M WILINSKY | teaneck, NJ United States | 11/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Considering that Darcey Bussell is one of the greatest ballerinas of recent times, it is amazing that this is apparently the only dvd that features her in the principal role! We finally have a dvd to showcase her incomparable talent. MacMillan is true to his wonderful form here, giving us very intense and classically faithful choreography for both the male and female dancers. He doesn't hold back and the dancers perform miracles on the floor and in the air. The performance is technically flawless and inspiring. The music is some of Britten's finest, in his neo-romantic style. There are two main female roles: Princess Rose, played by Darcey Bussell, and her sister, Princess Epine, played by Fiona Chadwick,(Rose is still the primary role). There are a few lesser female roles. There are also two main male roles: the Prince, played by Jonathan Cope, and the Fool, played by Simon Rice(the Prince being the primary role). There are several other important, but lesser male roles, the various kings. The sets and costumes are sensational and extremely vivid and somewhat surreal. The intense vividness of the characters might be disturbing to very young children, but otherwise this is something children as well as adults should appreciate. The story is a little difficult to follow, but there are explanations before each scene. There is also included as a special feature a wonderful and extensive documentary on this ballet, including reheasal clips, as well as classroom shots of Bussell doing an extensive solo; it also goes into MacMillan's entire artistic life; his wife is also interviewed. Don't pass this one up!"
A Major Disappointment
William A. Craig | 06/19/2010
(1 out of 5 stars)

""The Prince of the Pagodas" is one of the more problematic works in Benjamin Britten's output. Though several of his works were used to accompany dance, this is only one specifically conceived as a ballet, in fact a full-length three-act ballet in the Tchaikovsky tradition. It was composed for the Royal Ballet in 1956, after Britten returned from an ear-opening, deeply influential visit to the Far East, and was successfully performed the following year. But composing and producing the ballet was not a happy experience for Britten. On one hand, he had to compose a great deal of music fairly rapidly, and he felt equivocal about its quality. On the other, while thoroughly accustomed to the worlds of instrumental music and opera, the intense, inbred world of ballet was entirely foreign and made him very uncomfortable. He conducted a splendid recording of the complete score, and he then put it away. It was not staged again during his lifetime, and he resisted suggestions that he or someone else produce a concert version. Near the end of his life he finally allowed Norman Del Mar to extract a concert suite, which has been performed and recorded. It was not until 1978, two years after Britten's death, that the full score was published.
All this is unfortunate, because the work deserves to be better known. It is Britten's largest purely orchestral work, full of beautiful and striking musical ideas and truly dazzling orchestral writing, not least the passages influenced by the Balinese gamelan orchestras.
In 1990 the choreographer Kenneth MacMillan put on a new production by the Royal Ballet; this DVD is a film of this production. The sets and costumes are sumptuous, and to my inexpert eye the dancing looks excellent. But, unfortunately, it cannot be taken seriously, because it has next to nothing to do with what Britten wrote. MacMillan discarded the original scenario and choreography by John Cranko and substituted his own, and it emphatically does not work. MacMillan's story is more prosaic and much less interesting than the highly fanciful original. And Britten's music was written to illustrate specific events in Cranko's story; when it accompanies something entirely different it makes no sense. A good example is the opening scene. This is supposed to be a confrontation between the goodhearted Court Fool, represented by fast, sprightly music, and the evil Dwarf, represented by dark brass chords. MacMillan omits the Dwarf entirely and make this scene a dance for the Fool and Belle Rose, who isn't even supposed to have appeared at this point. The choreography and music have nothing to do with each other, and this sort of mismatch continues throughout the work. The greatest absurdity: The Prince is supposed to be the ruler of a magic kingdom inhabited by Pagodas, which (like those in Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite") are magical creatures, not buildings. There are no Pagodas in MacMillan's story, rendering the title itself nonsensical!
It's too bad that this production is so poor, since we're unlikely to have another in the foreseeable futute. I'd advise you to find Britten's recording of this splendid music and watch the staging through your mind's eye."