Dance review: More MacMillan celebrations

Joy Sable enjoys the Northern Ballet's celebration of Sir Kenneth Macmillan


The Royal Opera House paid tribute to Sir Kenneth MacMillan, who died 25 years ago, with another triple bill performed by dancers from the Royal Ballet and other top British companies.

Gloria, MacMillan’s lament for a lost generation, inspired by Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, takes a harsh look at the futility of war. Set to Poulenc’s soaring score, the piece starkly portrays life in the trenches. MacMillan’s father had fought in the Great War, and this was the choreographer’s attempt to depict the pain and loss which occurred on the battlefields.

Danced for the first time on the Covent Garden stage by Northern Ballet, the company did full justice to the demands of the choreography.

The dancers – clad in ragged, blood-spattered body tights or ghost-like shifts – group together in sorrowful poses, their bodies sometimes arcing backwards as if suddenly injured. The final moment, when a soldier glances over a precipice before jumping into oblivion, never fails to move.

The Judas Tree was MacMillan’s final work for the Royal Ballet. With a male cast, save for Melissa Hamilton (all wonderful leg extensions and startling, jabbing pointe work), this testosterone-fuelled piece is set in the present day. It depicts what happens when a gang gets out of control. Hamilton, at first provocative, then vulnerable, is passed between the men like a rag doll. Harsh, brutal, and certainly not one for children, this ballet is all the more relevant at a time when the sexual harassment and exploitation of women is constantly in the news.

The evening concluded with Elite Syncopations, MacMillan’s jazztime classic. Once again, it was performed by the Royal Ballet, with an assortment of soloists from other companies. Danced by all with a great deal of style, praise must go to Akane Takada, showing exquisite musicality in her solo and waltz. It brought a fun end to an otherwise sombre evening.

Kenneth MacMillan: a National Celebration, is at the Royal Opera House until 1 November. 

Northern Ballet is performing its own tribute to MacMillan with a triple bill of Gloria, Las Hermanas and Concerto at the Leeds Grand Theatre next March.

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