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Kenneth MacMillan
International Celebration

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This page is part of's coverage of the International Celebration of Kenneth MacMillan


An Introduction To Sir Kenneth Macmillan's Work At The Royal Opera House For 2002/03

Throughout the year ahead, we will celebrate The Royal Ballet's heritage with our tribute to Kenneth MacMillan on the 10th anniversary of his death - one of The Royal Ballet Company's and the world's great choreographers.

Kenneth MacMillan's choreographic legacy to The Royal Ballet and to the dance world as a whole, is monumental.

I am extremely pleased that we will have the opportunity to focus on his ballets throughout next season as our contribution to the International Celebration of his work.

Ross Stretton, Royal Ballet Director


The Royal Ballet, along with many other Companies worldwide, will focus the Season on the work of Kenneth MacMillan, whose extraordinary contribution to the dance world we remember on the 10th anniversary of his untimely death in 1992. Three of his full-length works, Manon, Mayerling and Prince of the Pagodas, all of which were created for The Royal Ballet, will appear during the Season. His one-act masterwork Song of the Earth, which he created for the Stuttgart Ballet, and Winter Dreams, one of his last works for The Royal Ballet, are also included.

MAYERLING - a ballet in three acts Kenneth MacMillan
29,30 October, 1,2,7,11,13,14 November at 7.3Opm
16 November at 7pm
as part of the international celebration of Kenneth MacMillan
Revival sponsored (1992) by The Friends of Covent Garden

Mayerling is the first of five ballets by Kenneth MacMillan in this Season, part of the international celebration of Kenneth MacMillan marking the 10th anniversary of his death. Last performed at the Royal Opera House in 1994 this three-act ballet is based on the true story of the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolf. The double death of Rudolf and his mistress, the 17-year-old Mary Vetsera, at the royal hunting lodge of Mayerling in 1889, has been shrouded in mystery and intrigue ever since. The ballet places Rudolph at the centre of his corrupt and hypocritical court society, through his drug addled liaisons we see his descent into the arms of Mary Vetsera, his ruthless mistress. This emotional study of deeply flawed characters is MacMillan at his best, swinging wildly through a landscape of hatred, love and desire towards death. Mayerling is set to music by Franz Liszt, arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchbery, with libretto by Gillian Freeman and period designs by the late Nicholas Georgiadis. Barry Wordsworth and Graham Bond will conduct.

Kenneth MacMillan
part of the international celebration of Kenneth MacMillan
Sponsored (1991) by The Friends of Covent Garden

Winter Dreams began as the 'Farewell' pas de deux, danced by Darcey Bussell and Irek Mukhamedov, specially commissioned to celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother's 90th Birthday at the Palladium. Kenneth MacMillan extended this to a one-act ballet, with Winter Dreams making its premiere in February 1991. Inspired by and using the same characters, it is a study of the melancholy in Chekhov's Three Sisters. The ballet, with subtle period designs from Peter Farmer, is danced to selected works from Tchaikovsky arranged by Philip Gammon and with additional music based on traditional Russian themes, arranged for guitars and mandolins by Thomas Hartman.

MANON - a ballet in three acts
Kenneth MacMillan
January, February, March, May 2003
part of the international celebration of Kenneth MacMillan

Sponsored (1974) by The Linbury Trust
Revival supported (2003) by the Friends of Covent Garden

Kenneth MacMillan's Manon has been one of the Company's signature works since its creation in 1974. Based on Abbe Prevost's l'Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut this magnificent ballet follows the fall of the central character, Manon, from Parisian courtesan to a fugitive in the Louisiana swamps. Despite falling in love with a young Parisian, Des Grieux, Manon agrees to a financial arrangement that her brother has made with a wealthy but elderly gentleman, Monsieur GM. A victim of her own avarice, she persuades Des Grieux to cheat Monsieur GM. out of more money at a card game. When they are discovered she is arrested as a prostitute and deported to America, followed by her lover. The ballet ends in a crescendo of rape, murder and Manon's spiral into madness. Emotionally charged, Jules Massenet's music, arranged by Leighton Lucas, from songs, piano pieces and arias (though none from his opera Manon) follows the protagonists through soaring heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair, all portrayed against Nicholas Georgiadis's sumptuous regency designs. Graham Bond conducts.

THE PRINCE OF THE PAGODAS - a ballet in three acts
Kenneth MacMillan
April, May 2003
part of the international celebration of Kenneth MacMillan
With support from The Britten Estate Ltd

First performed at the Royal Opera House in December 1989, MacMillan's Prince of the Pagodas is danced to Benjamin Britten's score, commissioned by John Cranko for his original ballet in 1957. When Kenneth MacMillan began the delicate process of strengthening and re-structuring the ballet's narrative he employed the help of travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron, who initially thought 're-plot a ballet? How can you?' However, The Prince of the Pagodas, often described as a combination of King Lear, Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, was re-created and enriched to offer a mature approach to the fairytale genre. The story follows an ailing Emperor who decides to divide his kingdom unequally between his two daughters, Princesses Epine and Rose. Epine, the slighted daughter, lays a curse on the empire, transforming her sister's beloved Prince into a salamander. Britten's score was heavily influenced by Balinese music which he used as an authentic integration rather than a facade, in many ways making this work pioneering at the moment of conception. The oriental theme is followed through with Nicholas Georgiadis's vivid designs. Richard Bernas will conduct.

SONG OF THE EARTH Kenneth MacMillan May 2003
part of the international celebration of Kenneth MacMillan

Song of the Earth is set to Mahler's great song cycle Das Lied von der Erde, the composer's poignant farewell to the joy and beauty of the world, which uses settings of ancient Chinese poems. In this ballet, music, poetry and choreography combine to show that, whilst our individual lives are short, the earth is in an eternal process of renewal. MacMillan's imagery captures the essence and atmosphere of the poems and matches the elegiac beauty of Mahler's score. Song of the Earth uses designs by MacMillan's lifelong collaborator, Nicholas Georgiadis. The programme is conducted by Barry Wordsworth.



The choreographer Kenneth MacMillan explored in his work subject matters and human relationships and behaviour in a way that changed the face of ballet. His works include dramatic dance dramas which portray searing, passionate and sometimes destructive relationships and behaviour. He trained at Sadler's Wells (now the Royal) Ballet School and joined Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet in 1946. In 1952, he choreographed his first ballet Somnabulism, which was the highlight of the first evening of choreography given by the Sadler's Wells Ballet Choreographic Group. Ninette de Valois commissioned him to create a ballet to Stravinsky's Danses concertantes in 1955, the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship which was to lead to MacMillan becoming Director of The Royal Ballet from 1970 - 1977 and its principal choreographer from 1977. He died unexpectedly in 1992, during a performance of his Mayerling by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, in the theatre which had been his home.

Jennifer Penney with Wayne Eagling and Julian Hosking in Kenneth MacMillan's Gloria, for The Royal Ballet, 1980.

photograph by Graham Brandon, this picture is to be part of the forthcoming Theatre Museum exhibition "Kenneth MacMillan - The Outsider"

On the tenth anniversary of his death, the Royal Opera House Archives are mounting a retrospective of his early choreographic works for the two Royal Ballet companies, which were also the beginnings of his collaboration with designer Nicholas Georgiadis and dancer Lynn Seymour. The exhibition on the ground floor of the theatre, in the Vilar Floral Hall and the Amphitheatre Corridor will include costumes, head dresses, set and costume designs and photographs from Danses concertantes, House of Birds, The Burrow, Agon and The Invitation as well as from MacMillan's first full length ballet Romeo and Juliet.


The Royal Ballet's Romeo and Juliet FREE on the BP big screen in Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets and the Piazza Covent Garden Thursday 23 May 2002

The Royal Ballet dancing Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet will be relayed live courtesy of BP to audiences in Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets and the Covent Garden Piazza on Thursday 23 May at 7.30pm. This is the second ever full-length ballet to be relayed live from The Royal Opera House. TIckets are not required and the performance is free of charge.

Shakespeare's tragedy of star-crossed lovers has inspired generations of leading artists from Gounod to Peggy Ashcroft to Baz Luhrman; Kenneth MacMillan is no exception. Marrying the play and Prokofiev's passionate, brooding score, he produced a classic of 20th Century choreography and one of The Royal Ballet's most popular works, all the more remarkable considering that it was his first full-length ballet. Pas de deux of startling lyrical beauty are danced against a spectacular and forceful portrait of Renaissance Italy, a city torn apart by factionalism. Romeo, a member of the aristocratic Montague family, impulsively gatecrashes a ball given by his family's enemies, the Capulets, only to fall in love with their daughter - the wilful Juliet - who in this version takes centre stage. The lovers are secretly married but any hopes that their union might lead to harmony are shattered when Juliet's vicious cousin Tybalt kills Mercutio, and the lovers' attempts to escape from the ensuing violence lead to tragedy.

The cast for this performance includes the internationally renowned Sylvie Gul1lem and Royal Ballet Principal Dancer Jonathan Cope.

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House will be conducted by Barry Wordsworth.

During the interval, audiences in Covent Garden piazza and Victoria Park will be shown exclusive documentary footage of The Royal Ballet in rehearsal and preparation for the performance, including interviews with Company Director, Ross Stretton and Royal Ballet principal dancers.

BP OPERA AND BALLET IN THE PIAZZA Live Relays from The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Sponsored by BP

Live relays in the Piazza began in 1987 with The Royal Opera presenting Placido Domingo in La boheme, since then there have been a total of 20 live relays. The BP sponsorship of these popular events began in September 2000. The generous support included funds for a new larger relay screen and improved technology, which makes it possible to relay live performances of ballet.

This year's programme of free open-air opera and ballet starts on 23 May with Romeo and Juliet, and the season continues with The Royal Opera's production of Puccini's well-loved opera La boheme on 6 June and Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades on 18 June.

BP Opera and Ballet is now a major strand of the Royal Opera House's growing education, outreach and access programme which concentrate on providing accessible, low cost opportunities for people to experience opera and ballet, often for the first time.

There will be a limited number of places for people with mobility problems, the elderly and people using wheelchairs. Information on how to reserve a place can be obtained from the Access Ticket Information Line on 020 7304 4000.

Westminster City Council has reminded the Royal Opera House to inform audiences attending the BP Opera and Ballet in the Piazza performances that it is a strictly standing only event. Any furniture brought into the ROH Piazza relay will consequently be removed and stored by the ROH for the duration of the performance.

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