Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration

Royal Opera House, London

Mary Brennan


EVEN though Sir Kenneth MacMillan was primarily associated with the Royal Ballet, the 25th anniversary of his death has occasioned an unprecedented coming together of the UK’s major ballet companies, in performances of various early works. Gosh! here they all were on-stage - dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet and Scottish Ballet alongside members of the Royal Ballet - closing the first programme of this festival with the razzamatazz fizz of MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations (1974). Ragtime sass and swagger, played live, brought out the best in everybody, but Scottish Ballet’s Marge Hendrick and Constant Vigier did a bit of adorable show-stealing with their hilariously mis-matched Tall’n’Small partnership in the Alaskan Rag.

Birmingham Royal Ballet opened the evening with Concerto (1966), MacMillan’s plotless response to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no 2. If, at times the costumes - little tunics for the women, unitards for the men in lively orange, lemon, vermilion - and certain aspects of the choreography whispered of Balanchine, the rhapsodic second movement was MacMillan in bravura lyric mode with Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton a thrillingly pliant central couple.

The dark, dramatic contrast to both these works came with Scottish Ballet’s recent revival of Le Baiser de la fée (1960). The company now inhabit this narrative of young love, doomed by the chilling intervention of an implacable ice-maiden Fairy, with a nuanced panache that respects the elements of classic tradition in the choreography while allowing MacMillan’s venturesome, future-forward duets to soar to Stravinsky’s music.

Constance Devernay has full command of the Fairy’s chilling elegance, Bethany Kingsley-Garner’s Fiancee has a lovely brightness while Andrew Peasgood shades the Young Man’s tragic journey with expressive details underpinned by impressively mettlesome technique. A notable triumph for Scottish Ballet, in this multi-faceted tribute to a great and influential choreographer.