This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, the choreographic genius who did so much for British ballet. He was never afraid to tackle tricky subjects – if anyone thinks ballet is all swans and sylphs, they should sit through some of his dark creations: Mayerling (drugs and suicide); Manon (prostitution) or The Judas Tree (sexual violence). That’s not to say he did not depict love – his Romeo and Juliet is now in the repertoire of dance companies all over the world, and contains some of the most beautiful pas de deux ever seen on stage.
For the first time, the Royal Ballet has invited four other companies from across the country to join its dancers on the Covent Garden stage in a celebration of MacMillan’s work.
The tribute kicked off with a triple bill comprising Concerto (danced by members of the Birmingham Royal Ballet); Le Baiser de la fee (Scottish Ballet) and Elite Syncopations (The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet and Scottish Ballet).
Concerto was danced with precision and clarity by the Birmingham company; the women were particularly strong, with Jenna Roberts coolly serene in her pas de deux with Tyrone Singleton. The large stage at Covent Garden does the ballet justice; the lighting and costumes stark and simple, adding to the power of the piece.
Le Baiser de la fee is a curiosity – originally staged in 1960, this ballet is the earliest to be performed in this anniversary season. There are moments of beauty, but it lags at times and lacks the spark which is apparent in much of MacMillan’s other work. Nevertheless, in the various pas de deux you can spot phrases and lifts which he used to better effect in later ballets: Romeo and Juliet and Mayerling spring to mind.
The evening concluded with Elite Syncopations, MacMillan’s joyous ragtime romp set to music by Scott Joplin and others. Performed by the Royal Ballet, with an assortment of soloists from the other companies, the dancers, in Ian Spurling’s wonderfully zany costumes, had an enormous amount of fun zipping through their numbers with aplomb. The orchestra – kitted out like a jazz band and seated at the back of the stage – looked like they were having a ball too.
Kenneth MacMillan: a National Celebration, is at the Royal Opera House until 1 November. A number of his other ballets will also be performed. Further details from www.roh.org.uk