Q&A: Jonathan Cope on The Prince of the Pagodas
We catch up with the former Royal Ballet Principal-turned-répétiteur ahead of the ballet's return.
Nehemiah Kish in rehearsals with Jonathan Cope for The Prince of the Pagodas © Johan Persson/ROH 2012
Former Royal Ballet Principal Jonathan Cope is currently in rehearsals with The Royal Ballet in preparation for the return of MacMillan’s The Prince of the Pagodas. Jonathan performed in the role of the Prince alongside Darcey Bussell in the 1996 production, and now works with the company as répétiteur, teaching dancers.The ballet has not been performed at Covent Garden for 13 years, and includes some of MacMillan’s most challenging choreography. We caught up with Jonathan ahead of opening night to find out more…
You last danced in The Prince of the Pagodas in 1996 alongside Darcey Bussell. How does it differ this time around?
For this production Monica Mason has had permission from the Britten Trust to cut the score, which is what Kenneth MacMillan wanted to do originally. Kenneth always said to me that there was a great ballet there, it just needed to be edited and sorted out. Now, many of the numbers that don’t add much to the narrative, and are just a bit of padding, have been cut. The second act has been reduced and there has been some re-ordering – shifting numbers around to make more sense of the plot. As a result, the whole piece is tighter and more involving. In that respect, we hope as a ballet it will come to life.
Britten’s music is quite inventive and exotic, and includes sections influenced by Balinese gamelan music. How do the dancers react to this?
It creates an atmosphere, particularly in Pagoda Land with the Salamander solo. When those instruments coming in, it makes the world seem quite alien and quite strange. The music is very effective from that point of view. I personally like the score – it’s clever but very challenging. All the dancers are counting in nines and fives, and sixes and threes – it’s all over the place!
Are there any particular sections you’d recommend watching out for?
Rose’s three main solos are difficult. They’re classic solos, but each with a twist. In particular, the one inthe second act with a violin solo is musically incredibly difficult. For the Prince, he has to bring across the contrast of being a salamander and changing quickly into the romantic prince. The Salamander is a lot of work on the floor – slithering and rippling, looking weird, strange and not very human, while the Prince is very normal – charming and handsome.
The piece is quite rare. How is it different to other ballets? What do you like about it?
It’s different to other classical ballets as, even though the shapes are classical, it has a MacMillan twist. The choreography is arranged so that, rather than doing a conventional position, there’s always a twist to it. For example, a hand will be on a shoulder instead of round a waist, or an arm will be twisted and behind you instead of rounded. Even though it’s still within classical lines, it’s not completely conventional classical ballet. It has a style that relates to MacMillan.
What is the role of a repetiteur? Do you help with technical steps or can you influence artistic expression as well?
I can certainly encourage the artistic expression. You’re never looking for a carbon-copy of yourself and the way you expressed it, but you can certainly give them ideas. You’re working as a team rather than dictating. They’re all individual and they’re all marvellous as artists. Obviously, the plot is there and you have to interpret it a certain way for the story, but there’s so much fine detail that you can put in individually – the way you feel things.
As you previously danced the role of the Prince, are you protective of the role?
Not at all. If anything, I want it to move on now. I encourage the dancers not to dance the role like me – choreographically to use the structure, but to bring something more to it than we did; to bring the story a little bit more to life. When I danced it, we were young and focused on the technical side of it more than the artistic side. Now it is the opportunity to really let rip with those roles.
Watch Jonathan performing the role of The Prince:
The Prince of the Pagodas runs from 2 – 29 June.