When I think of The Little Prince, I think of a teetering balance between a delicate – almost melancholy – beauty, and a joyful silliness. In their version of this tale of a desert-crashed pilot and a star-travelling Prince, Protein have captured both in dance.
Even before anything happens on it, the stage pulls us into this beautiful world, with variously sized spheres serving both as the rolling sand dunes of the desert and the planets that The Little Prince travels between, full of mystery and hidden potential. Yann Seabra’s design provides an effective playground for the performers, with characters frequently climbing over, popping out of and balancing off these ethereal globes. And the costumes are just as playful, adding colour and drama and scale to this lunar landscape. Each feels simultaneously like a cartoon sketch come to life, and like something in movement suddenly caught in a snapshot – whether it is the Prince’s scarf flying up in an eternal breeze, or the unnaturally bouncing curls of the King.
The choreography, I’m sure, will plant or nurture the desire to be a dancer in many a young heart in the audience. It is playful and joyous, and particularly blossoms in the frequent duets, with each lift and spin and hand offered seeming part of some secret game whose rules we aren’t privy to. The skill of the dancers makes so much of it look almost instinctual, and most of all, fun.
This is all accompanied by Frank Moon’s music, which shifts just as smoothly as the dancers, and the wildly varying styles helping clearly establish each point of the Prince’s travels. I particularly loved his song for Donna Lennard’s Business Man, an ode to counting and owning stars, which felt on a level with the best of Disney’s villainous anthems. And when the story turns more serious and emotional it is just as supported by delicate music and Lennard’s soaring voice.
However, while both the design and the dance successfully create the strange and charming worlds of The Little Prince, moments of dialogue or direct address fall a little more flat. Somewhere in the translation between page and stage, the words slip from charming to stilted. And sadly the performances don’t manage to lift the script, never quite striking the right balance between conversational and clown, falling into a middle ground which doesn’t quite achieve either engagement or clarity. This is shown particularly starkly in moments of audience participation. These moments were few and far between, but when they do appear it often feels like the invitations to the audience are tentative and unclear, meaning audience responses are equally uncertain.
The structure is uncertain too, with sections often seeming out of context, jarring with what came before. Of course, non-sequitur-ish skipping from tale to tale is straight from the book, but in Protein’s version it feels further obscured, and some added elements – such as the fox appearing several times to chat to the audience before his appearance in the story – further confuse the flow.
Protein have masterfully transformed the magic of Saint-Exupéry’s words into movement, but somewhat lost the magic of the words themselves.
The Little Prince played at The Edge, Bath on 1st November. It tours the UK through November and December. More info here.