Kenneth MacMillan triple bill Royal Opera House, 23rd March-15th April, Tel: 0207 304 4000
In 1992 Kenneth MacMillan died, both tragically and fittingly, backstage at the Royal Opera House during a performance of his ballet Mayerling. Had he lived, he would now be celebrating his 80th birthday. Yet amid the tributes being paid—the publishing of a new biography (Different Drummer by Jann Parry), the performance of a dedicated triple bill—the nature of MacMillan’s legacy is still being debated.
Back in the 1960s MacMillan established himself as the angry young man of ballet. Frustrated by the art form’s lingering fairytale cuteness, he made it his mission to embrace the darkness and danger of real life. He could craft beautiful steps with the best of them, but he choreographed works that dealt with madness, brutality, war and loss, and tested the limits of the classical vocabulary.
In many ways the urgency of Macmillan’s quest made him the most important choreographer of his generation. But critics sometimes saw a muddle of means, and an incoherence of tone. His last ballet, The Judas Tree, was as controversial as any he made in its heated convergence of mysticism and gang rape. And the debate will be revived when it returns to the stage in the Royal Ballet’s tribute programme, alongside the more innocent, crowd-pleasing ballets Concerto and Elite Syncopations.
This article originally appeared in the March 2010 edition of Prospect