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. Kenneth MacMillan

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https://www.kennethmacmillan.com/new-page-4

Im sick to death of fairytales Kenneth MacMillan once told The Times. Yet Le Baiser de la fée fascinated him and he revisited his 1960 original again in 1986. It was the music that naturally attracted me, he told Clive Barnes, certainly not the story. I realise that the story is not altogether convincing. But I also found the theme, or, if you like, allegory, extraordinarily interesting.

This was Kenneth MacMillans third Stravinsky ballet; the previous two were Danses Concertantes (1955) and Agon (1959). While the score of Baiser had been admired from the time of its composition in 1929, choreographers had struggled to create a completely successful staging. Nijinskas original for Ida Rubinstein had left Stravinsky cold (Im just back from the theatre with a fearful headache as a result of the terrible things Ive been seeing). Kenneth MacMillan was the eighth choreographer to tackle Baiser; others who had previously hazarded its pitfalls included Frederick Ashton (1935) and George Balanchine (1937), both of whom had warned MacMillan of the difficulties in his way, chief among them the lack of obvious relationships between score and scenario. For several critics, MacMillans version is the most credible in its engagement with both and in its attempt to reconcile them.

Musically Le Baiser de la fée is a tribute to Tchaikovsky, while its scenario is based on Hans Christian Andersens The Ice Maiden. This is the story of a boy destined for immortality because he has been kissed at birth by a fairy, or ice maiden. When the boy grows up and marries, the fairy reappears, entices away him from his bride and carries him away to supreme happiness. Stravinsky explained his fascination with the tale:

IN ASSOCIATING THIS MUSE (I.E. TCHAIKOVSKY) WITH OUR FAIRY, THIS BALLET BECOMES AN ALLEGORY. THIS MUSE HAS IN THE SAME WAY MARKED THE BALLET WITH THE FATAL KISS WHOSE MYSTERIOUS IMPRINT IS VISIBLE IN ALL THE WORK OF THAT GREAT ARTIST.
Ashton, in creating his version, identified with the idea of the kiss as an ordination, an artistic setting apart. For Ashton the instant of the kiss is the climactic ecstatic moment in the young mans life. But MacMillan had a far darker story to tell. His instinct was for the bride betrayed. His tale is one of good and evil - of the abandoned bride (Shes the one who is lost) and a young man in the grip of everlasting darkness. For Clive Barnes, MacMillan, in reconceiving the allegory, had cut to its heart:

...THE ARTIST IN SOCIETY, THE MAN MARKED OUT FROM HIS FELLOWS, UNABLE TO JOIN IN THEIR LIFE AND DEDICATED TO SUFFERING. IN MACMILLANS HANDS, BARNES SUGGESTED, THE BALLET NOT ONLY APPEARS AS A TELLING HOMAGE TO THE 19TH-CENTURY RUSSIAN BALLETS THAT INSPIRED IT, BUT ALSO AS A WORK FULL OF NOBLE, SINGING POETRY.
MacMillan was determined that the set should not recycle traditional images of fairyland. Instead, the designer Kenneth Rowell created a threatening landscape in dark mineral colours; an abstract world of rock stratas, gorges, caverns and ominous icebergs.

For Richard Buckle, this Baiser was a tremendous success. He continued: MacMillan, with his ear to the ground, has perfectly translated into movement the filigree of shimmering insect splendour which is a feature of this score. Of Lynn Seymour as the Bride, he wrote that she skims and flits like a happy gnat through her lovely allegretto variation: she has the priceless gift of lending to art an air of spontaneity, and without question makes a triumph of her first created role. Of Svetlana Beriosova as the Fairy, it seemed to Buckle that she had never been seen to better effect in a modern ballet. As the Fairy, her swooping boreal gestures and Alpine style point the difference between god and human.

As for The Times, The criticism that the music, drawn from Tchaikovskys salon music, with difficulty sustains a continuous ballet in four scenes is just, but so much invention has been put into the new choreography by Mr Kenneth MacMillan and into the splendid evocative scenery by Mr Kenneth Rowell, that the weakness of the hybrid creation was not obtrusive, for the eye was continuously and abundantly satisfied and gratified. For Dance and Dancers MacMillans greatest success was in transforming nineteenth century classical choreography into something completely individual and yet at the same time retaining the essence of its style and structure. Le Baiser de la fée represents the most mature choreography MacMillan has so far given us.

But for Alexander Bland of The Observer. it is not until the pas de deux that interest quickens, the high point of the evening being soon reached in the fiancées solo, a delicious drifting rubato affair, which Lynn Seymour will make into a winner, when she has grown into it. The contrasting dance between the hero and the fairy, which follows (rather awkwardly) immediately afterwards, seems laboured by comparison with Beriosova serene and fluid as ever, but hampered by a singularly unbecoming costume not so romantically remote as she might have been. This is an ambivalent role a kind of amiable Odile but unattainability is surely in the long run a Muses trump card. Donald MacLeary danced and acted excellently throughout.

Given so many excellent reviews, the question must be asked why the ballet did not survive. The reasons were similar to those for the non-survival in the repertory of Laiderette. MacMillan had wanted to do Le Baiser de la fée as his first commissioned ballet, but the musical demands (configuration) of Stravinskys score were impractical for a touring company. When it was produced in 1960 at Covent Garden, the complication became Kenneth Rowells set designs. These were so complex that, at a time when the Royal Ballet could call on sixty other works in the repertory, there were only six other ballets with which Le Baiser de la fée could, for technical reasons, be programmed. Of those six some were probably not compatible on the same programme; there could have been a preponderance of opening ballets or middle works, or impossible orchestral demands so Le Baiser de la fée was a nightmare to schedule and had only 33 performances.

First performed: 12 April 1960
Company: The Royal Ballet
Music: Igor Stravinsky
Design: Kenneth Rowell
Cast: Lynn Seymour, Svetlana Beriosova, Donald MacLeary
1953 - 1960  1960 - 1966  1966-1970  1970 - 1977  1977 - 1992
THE MACMILLAN ESTATE UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED.

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https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/ … w-barbican

Barbican, London
Viviana Durante revives early works by Kenneth MacMillan in a programme full of poignant insights
When the choreographer Kenneth MacMillan died in 1992, he left behind him more than 90 ballets, created over 39 years. His last evening was spent at Covent Garden, at a revival of his ballet Mayerling; during the performance he suffered a fatal heart attack backstage. The principal dancer performing the lead role of Mary Vetsera that night was Viviana Durante, then 25 and a noted interpreter of MacMillans ballets. A quarter of a century later, in commemoration of the choreographers life, Durante has staged a programme of early MacMillan works, with excerpts from House of Birds (1955) and Danses Concertantes (1955), and a full-length performance of Laiderette (1954), performed by dancers from the Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and Ballet Black.

The most interesting aspect of these pieces is the way they prefigure themes and motifs that MacMillan would develop in later, greater works. Choreographically, they reveal how he tilted against balletic convention from the start. Time and again, we see idiosyncratic variants of the classical vocabulary. Darting heads, counterintuitive body lines, unexpected articulations of wrist and foot. House of Birds, set to music by Federico Mompou, is a strange and sinister piece, adapted from a Grimm fairytale about a boy (Thiago Soares) and a girl (Lauren Cuthbertson) lured into enchanted captivity by a predatory, beaked bird-woman (Sayaka Ichikawa).

ll the characters have clear movement signatures, the lyrical lines of the girls choreography contrasting with the staccato spikiness of the bird-woman and the tight, bound moves of the boys she has enslaved. Cuthbertson imbues her steps with a dewy freshness, and shows how MacMillan often achieved his effects through the simplest of means. A leg swung in front of her and, with a soft leap, swung back into arabesque, perfectly describes the airy and radiant freedom she enjoys before her capture.

The dark pall cast by the second world war, which had ended a decade earlier, is everywhere in this work. In Different Drummer, her biography of MacMillan, former Observer dance critic Jann Parry describes the choreographer as obsessive about the war, and in House of Birds we see the introduction of themes of repression and captivity that he explored on a greater scale in ballets such as Anastasia (1971), and Valley of Shadows (1983). Based on Giorgio Bassanis The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, the latter contrasts idyllic family scenes in prewar Italy with the horrors of the Nazi death camps, while in Anastasia the privilege and parental love enjoyed by the Romanov children is made more poignant by the terrible fate that awaits them. In his poem The Second Coming, written in 1919, the year following the Romanov familys murder, WB Yeats writes that everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned, and his words apply perfectly to MacMillans ballets.

Akane Takada and JoséŽ Alves in Danses Concertantes.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest  Akane Takada and JoséŽ Alves in Danses Concertantes. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Observer
The icily brittle duet from Danses Concertantes, set to Stravinskys score and performed with assiduous attention to detail by José Alves and Akane Takada, shows that even MacMillans early abstract work had a fractured, dangerous edge. But its in Laiderette, with music by Frank Martin, that we see his most anguished themes assembled. The storys heroine (Francesca Hayward) is a waifish commedia dellarte clown, rejected by her threadbare troupe and left on the steps of a grand house, where a dance is taking place. Invited inside, she is courted by the host (Soares) until his cruel guests pull off her wig and mask, revealing her to be bald and ugly.

MacMillans choreography for his heroine veers between deformed classicism and a blundering, moth-like flutteriness, which might have been made for Hayward. Artless and open-mouthed, her hands clawing and her neck straining piteously, she desperately seeks acceptance and love. According to Parry, the dancer who created the role of Laiderette, Maryon Lane, recognised her character as a projection of Kenneth, scared that the world would reject him if people knew what he was really like. Undoubtedly true, but as so often, theres a broader resonance to MacMillans imagery. The itinerant clowns, hollow-eyed, etiolated, and dressed in little more than shredded rags, are universal symbols of dispossession, while Laiderette is every outsider victimised for being different.

Durante is to be thanked for resurrecting these works, which not only cast a fascinating light on the existing MacMillan repertoire, but reveal much that is beautiful and poignant, and might otherwise have been lost.

Kenneth MacMillan: Steps Back in Time from the Barbican

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