Kenneth macmillan

Notes on a scandal

How could it possibly go wrong? The magnetic, seething Russian star Natalia Osipova playing the tragic woman in John Singer Sargent’s magnetic, enigmatic portrait of Madame X, all alabaster skin, black dress and arrogantly sexy profile. A Mark-Anthony Turnage-commissioned score, a top-prestige Bolshoi co-production, and enough scenery to rebuild Canary Wharf. If only Christopher Wheeldon’s new Covent Garden ballet Strapless were a scandal, like the portrait itself when originally unveiled in Paris in 1884, or like Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon at its première. If only it could be dubbed a tasteless exhibition of an undesirable type of female. Instead, it’s just a polite little flop, vastly over-decorated, overcomplicated, and with a

Wherefore art thou Romeo?

You always remember your first time, don’t you? And in ballet one imagines that Juliet wants to remember her first Romeo as a thunderclap. So the Royal Ballet’s director Kevin O’Hare, for reasons best known to himself, gives the most exciting new young star the Royal Ballet has seen for years the role of Juliet and…Matthew Golding as Romeo. And so it was that Francesca Hayward’s mesmerising debut in this most prized of all Royal ballerina roles will be remembered as a bomb exploding in a vacuum. This Juliet will have to hunt for a new Romeo to find her match; she will have better nights to remember than that


There was blood on the walls and floor at the birth of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet in 1965. The violence of the subject was matched by the goings-on in the wings, the scrap over the first-night casting, in which the original Juliet, the young Lynn Seymour, found herself relegated down the list having had an abortion to take the role. Due to Machiavellian box-office politics, the première was staged with Fonteyn and Nureyev as the young lovers, and rising star MacMillan, horrified at being steamrollered, quit the Royal Ballet. None of the smell of blood and fury survives in the Royal Ballet’s scrupulously scrubbed-down 50th anniversary staging. Though there

The long goodbye

There’s been a clutch of middle-aged danseuses taking leave of life in one way or another recently. We’ve seen the abject (Mariinsky star Diana Vishneva’s solo show at the Coliseum) and the magnetic (Alessandra Ferri mournfully channelling Virginia Woolf at the Royal Ballet). A fortnight ago, the Paris Opéra’s aristocratic Aurélie Dupont retired from the stage in one of her great roles, as did American Ballet Theatre’s stellar women Paloma Herrera and Xiomara Reyes in New York. For top ballerinas and their fans it’s a harsh act of killing, a flower cut off in its fullest bloom. Darcey Bussell has said she sank into depression when she retired at 38,

Can you ballet-dance to words?

Can you ballet-dance to words? How can choreography make any seriously worthwhile addition to a piece of music like Mahler’s vocal symphony Das Lied von der Erde? Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 ballet Song of the Earth, currently on at Covent Garden, is frequently hailed as a masterpiece, but just as often you read comments by people baffled by it, lost in its length and orchestral density, and in their incomprehension of the German/Chinese verses that provided both composer and choreographer with their narratives. The Royal Opera House authorities believed the exercise shouldn’t be attempted at all, and MacMillan, fresh in 1965 from the huge success of his new Romeo and Juliet

Shirley Williams: Saving my mother from the scriptwriters

Shirley Williams sits at the head of a table in a large conference room in Lib Dem HQ. She will be 85 this year, but still has a finger in many a pie, most of which we’re not to talk about here, including the predicted wipe-out of a generation of her party’s MPs at this year’s election. It’s one of the reasons she never made it to see the Tower of London poppies. Too busy. She also had to dash to Russia where she is on the board of the Moscow School of Political Studies. ‘It is all about teaching people about democracy and has fallen under the frown of

Sylvie Guillem interview: ‘A lot of people hate me. Bon. You can’t please everybody’

If you follow dance or music closely, make them part of your life, you look on certain performers as your daemon. These are the artists who become part of your inner landscape. They act as a tuning fork for your emotions and imagination. And you mark their progress with particular hope that you won’t be disappointed. When the 25-year-old Sylvie Guillem arrived in London in 1989 from Paris Opera Ballet, with a flaming reputation as Rudolf Nureyev’s prodigal daughter, one’s first reaction was wariness. She seemed so flashy in her incredible bodily gifts. In Swan Lake, this Swan Queen showed no modesty in her headlong dives — the legs shot

Does a tart like Manon have a place in the Royal Ballet repertoire?

What can the Royal Opera House be insinuating about its target audience? No sooner had Anna Nicole closed than Manon opened the new ballet season. Kenneth MacMillan’s gold-digger turns 40 this year but her promiscuous allure shows no signs of failing punters with money to burn on sex thrills. I once took my partner to see Sylvie Guillem as Manon. His verdict was, ‘Too immoral’. I guess he got MacMillan’s point rather well. Manon has no heart at all, she is deliciously low. Since 1974 she has dodged bullets when powers-that-be proposed that a conscienceless tart had no place in the Royal repertoire. But ballerinas led the defence, seeing that

Bach is made for dancing

It appears that J.S. Bach’s music is to theatre-dance what whipped cream is to chocolate. Masterworks such as Trisha Brown’s MO, George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco and a plethora of less-known, though equally acclaimed compositions owe a great deal to the giant of baroque music. Wayne McGregor is the most recent addition to this illustrious roster of successful Bach-inspired dance-makers with Tetractys —The Art of Fugue, which world-premièred last Friday. Set, as the title implies, to Michael Berkeley’s orchestration of The Art of Fugue, played on the piano by Kate Shipway, the new work stands out for the intensity of the dialogue between music and dance. Linear beauty dominates a majestic

The Royal Ballet’s triple bill was danced to perfection

There was a time when the term ‘world première’ was not as fashionable as it is these days. Great works simply ‘premièred’, and their artistic status was not diminished by the fact that the opening had not been advertised as a globally significant event. Which is what ‘world première’ implies, even though it is seldom the case. The term has a sensationalistic ring to it, and should therefore be used carefully and sparingly. According to a recent press release, David Dawson’s The Human Seasons is the second of the five ‘world premières’ that the Royal Ballet will perform this season. Fortunately, this new creation deserves global recognition and admiration, for