Kenneth Macmillan was a controversial figure in 20th century ballet. His choreographies employed classical movement in a modern concept and his subjects were often dark and, -some reviewers claim,- highly autobiographical. This, however, is not the case with the Prince of the Pagodas. Here we have a fairy-tale narrated through a choreography that pays homage to 19th century Romantic Ballet. As such, I found it pleasant and interesting, but less vital than some of Macmillan's more contemporary or "personal" works.
Britten is not my favorite composer, yet I found his effort to write a true ballet score thoroughly succesful, -though perhaps the work is a bit too long.
The Covent Garden production (designed by N. Georgiades), is opulent and imaginative, but I would not count it among the venerable designer's most succesful projects. To be fair, the quality of the picture may not be doing justice to the sets and costumes. It seems to me that dvd companies find it unnecessary to re-master performances from the 1980s and early 1990s, so the picture we get on these dvds is, more or less, that of a good VHS tape. It is certainly watchable, but lacks the clarity and brilliance that the new medium could offer.
The dancing ranges from good to spectacular. Both Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope, as the two lovers, are wonderful, as are some of the solo dancers in smaller parts. Fiona Chadwick is a fine ballerina, but I found her portrayal of the evil sister, Epine, less impressive than I had expected after watching some of her other performances. Simon Rice, who dances the Fool, is an athletic, but strangely "heavy" dancer. After watching the rehearsal footage (with another dancer in the part,) it seemed to me that the performance would have benefited from the casting of a more "blithe" dancer in the part.
Finally, this dvd includes an excellent "documentary portrait" of the choreographer, offering extensive information and discussions on Macmillan's turbulent life and career, as well as rehearsal footage from the Prince of the Pagodas, and rare archive footage from his earlier works.