Washington Part "Cinderella," part "Beauty and the Beast" and part "Nutcracker," the Royal Ballet's lavish production of "The Prince of the Pagoda" is a muddle of well-meaning but misplaced intent. The work opened the British company's two-week engagement at the Kennedy Center Tuesday evening.
With sibling rivalry, a beautiful princess, an enchanted prince, a herd of suitors, a fool that is wise, a mysterious journey and a happy ending, the dance has all the elements of a classic fairy tale. But this nearly three-hour work, re-choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan after John Cranko's 1957 ballet set to Benjamin Britten's score, suffers from musical and narrative inconsistencies and a deadly second act that sinks the buoyant and delightful one that precedes it. By the third act, the dancers must work overtime to counterbalance the inertia.
Still, the dancers compensate for the flaws of the work itself. Darcy Bussell, in the role of the good princess, is a treasure and a joy to watch as she makes the transition from sweet young thing to compassionate adult. Ms. Bussell has extraordinary extensions that seem suspended forever and her dancing has a delightful clarity. But it was Deborah Bull and her wonderful comedic timing as the wicked half sister who epitomized all those women who sweetly smile while stabbing you in the back. Her droll performance capitalized on an aggressive approach to the movements and her considerable acting ability.
Tetsuya Kumakawa, as the Fool, was dazzling with his well-executed acrobatic leaps and jumps. Robert Hill, as the Prince, and Adam Cooper, Bruce Sansom, William Trevitt and Ashley Page as the four suitor-kings all gave above average and often exuberant performances.
On the whole the demeanor of the company is open spirited and pleasant. Their dancing lacks the stiletto charge familiar in most American ballet companies; instead they have a congenial approach to the movements.
It has been noted that this company, under the direction of Anthony Dowell, has turned to a more classically oriented repertoire. "The Prince and the Pagoda" is not the kind of classical work that the company will be noted for. Luckily however, the Royal Ballet will dance "Swan Lake" as well as a program of Frederick Ashton ballets during this Washington engagement.