Three by MacMillan

Three contrasting ballets by the late Kenneth MacMillan were performed by the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden yesterday evening. The first, Concerto, is a straightforward interpretation of Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto (the one with the snare drum in the first movement and the 7/8 sections in the third). The choreography is lively and fairly conventional, moving towards a slightly machine-like atmosphere but always cheerful.

The Judas Tree, to music by Brian Elias, is quite another matter; one of Macmillan's darker ballets (and his last) it was premiered in 1992, not long before his death. It's set on a building site near Canary Wharf (the tower is in the backdrop) as evening falls. The foreman brings his girlfriend and two male friends to the site; the girl is confident, teasing the men almost like a prostitute; the men show off to her. But it leads to gang rape, murder, and the hanging of one of the foreman's friends. There are connections to the Bible, with the foreman representing Judas, the girl Mary Magdelene and the hanged friend Jesus, but these are vague and I have to say the whole thing is unclear and despite some interesting choreography doesn't really come off. Well danced, though, particularly by Mara Galeazzi as the girl and Thiago Soares as the foreman.

The final ballet was the lively Elite Syncopations in its first revival for 36 years. It's set to ragtime pieces by Scott Joplin and others; and onstage band plays in what seems to be a dance hall while brightly dressed dancers perform in various combinations. There are 'movement quotes' from long-forgotten dance crazes of the Edwardian era, and the choreography builds on the period flavour. I saw this with the original cast when it premiered in 1974; it was recorded by the BBC the following year (broadcast on 21 September 1975) and I saw this at the National Film Theatre in 2002, but it's a treat to see it live once more. You can see a few video excerpts from another production here, and one of the dances from an undientified production here.)

The new cast, including Laura Morera, Yuhui Choe Thiago Soares and Ludovic Ondiviela stood up well to my memories of the stellar originals (who included Merle Park, Monica Mason, Michael Coleman and Jennifer Penney). There is a comic dance in which a bumbling and overeager - and small - male dancer pairs with a tall girl: Michael Stojko, complete with Harold Lloyd glasses, isn't quite as small as the original, the diminutive Wayne Sleep, but the dance is still hilarious. My only reservation is that there is rather a balance towards slower pieces, with the faster ones only at the beginning and end, and I could have done with perhaps one less slow one and one more faster one to keep the impetus up; but it's a colourful and entertaining ballet.

Posted: Wed - March 31, 2010 at 09:33 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM