Archive Page Design
Click here to go to Balletco's new home page and site navigation

About the Change
HomeMagazineListingsUpdateLinksContexts





Family Heirlooms

by Susan Crow

Ballet.co MacMillan Home

MacMillan Conference details

MacMillan Conference web

click for details

Susie Crow's last piece

This page is part of Ballet.co's coverage of the International Celebration of Kenneth MacMillan
Homepage



Susie Crow, our regular columnist, is the RAD Revealing MacMillan Conference Coordinator - the first major conference to cover Kenneth MacMillan's life and work. This months piece concentrates on MacMillan, the importance of capturing knowledge before it is lost and keeping hold of what we've got already....



Since my mother’s death at Easter three years after my father, I have been regularly visiting my parents’ house, sorting through papers and contemplating the disposal of their over 3000 books. Collected over decades of study, teaching and research, this working academic library is more than the sum of its constituent volumes. The idiosyncratic logic of its arrangement serves to indicate not only the major routes of their knowledge but the thousands of byways which enriched the map of their learning.

Having responsibility for dispersing this feels a heavy burden. But it also seems imperative that this inheritance should find happy homes with those for whom its distinct elements have meaning and value; that the final act of filial mourning should be the dissemination of this wealth of knowledge and understanding that my parents as teachers strove to add to and pass on.

Not only are we custodians of this - we are now the repository of family history. Boxes of letters, diaries, suitcases of old photographs, ancestral faces whose identities are unknown or only dimly guessed at. In the absence of their grandparents it is important that such knowledge as I have should be available to my children and my children’s children. I regret my lack of curiosity over the years now that it is too late to ask those who could have informed me. What I might have had for the asking I can now only acquire through painstaking detection if at all.




Chance remarks or forgotten images trigger memories long buried and fragments of insight into MacMillan’s life and the genesis of his ballets

 
Not that such detection is without charm. Talking with artists contributing to the Royal Academy of Dance’s Revealing MacMillan conference I am frequently delighted by the emergence of unexpected anecdotes and off beat recollections that bring authenticity and life to the biographical outline. Chance remarks or forgotten images trigger memories long buried and fragments of insight into MacMillan’s life and the genesis of his ballets.

In October it will be ten years since Kenneth MacMillan died. Some of his earliest friends and collaborators are also dead, and much information has gone to the grave with them. In the relatively young field of dance scholarship there is not yet the equivalent of the vast body of written knowledge that my parents were able to accumulate and refer to on their subject - texts, critical editions and commentary, histories and studies of cultural context. If I am concerned as to the fate of their intellectual heritage, how much more urgent and grave a concern is the fragile



If the ballets are not in repertoire the student or the curious onlooker cannot even study the works themselves

 
existence and uncertain future of MacMillan’s great body of work.

If the ballets are not in repertoire the student or the curious onlooker cannot even study the works themselves. Many of the ballets, including arguably some of the most important works, were never filmed for public circulation. Some of the greatest performances in British ballet, unrecorded, now live only in the memory of those fortunate enough to witness them, in brief reviews or in tantalizing photographic images. The Royal Ballet’s video archive contains blurred monochrome rehearsal footage of much of the choreographer’s most groundbreaking and controversial work. As in a mediaeval library, this rare and precious material is currently a protected commodity not for public consumption, accessible to the company and a privileged few, hedged in by a thicket of union embargos on wider circulation. The Revealing MacMillan conference will provide a rare opportunity to view excerpts from this unique collection.

Fortunately MacMillan realised early the potential of Benesh movement notation and over the years ensured that nearly all his works were written down. A succession of notators headed by the redoubtable Monica Parker were prime witnesses to his creative processes, and the scores they produced make tangible and define the choreographic text, making possible accurate reconstruction of the works. Copies of these scores are held at the Theatre Museum and can be consulted in the Royal Academy of Dance library in Battersea - if you can read Benesh. The dance world is a long way off the universal literacy of a common system of notation that music enjoys, so that outside the professional ambit of companies engaged in production this information remains at present generally inaccessible.



Kenneth MacMillan rehearsing Merle Park in the title role of Isadora,
The Royal Ballet, 1981

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


So much for the texts - what of the family history? How complete can any reproduction be without the testimony of those who have experienced the work from inside, who can put flesh on the bones? A stream of dancers over nearly half a century had first hand contact with MacMillan’s work, and their accumulated insight with its capacity to inform future reconstructions is largely undocumented. Here the conference can provide a real service in bringing together academics and professionals to draw out elements of this collective memory and begin to record the emerging oral history for future generations of artists and scholars.

Compared to that of other choreographers -



In his widow and beneficiary Deborah, MacMillan has a doughty champion determined to see his work made more visible and given the recognition that is its due

 
witness the ongoing debate over the question of who owns Martha Graham’s work - MacMillan’s inheritance is well organised and protected. In his widow and beneficiary Deborah, MacMillan has a doughty champion determined to see his work made more visible and given the recognition that is its due. Major artists such as Monica Mason and Donald MacLeary coach younger generations in the roles they created. Former dancers steeped in his work such as Julie Lincoln have now acquired Benesh skills which enable them to crystallize their personal knowledge and impart it in the remounting of the ballets. Extensive conference documentation and subsequent publication of the papers presented will help to address the present dearth of study materials available on the choreographer, whose Winter Dreams is currently a set work for A Level Dance. The coming year will see the publication of Jann Parry’s eagerly awaited MacMillan biography. There is increasing demand and interest world wide in the MacMillan repertoire which can be seen in the impressive roster of companies mounting his work in this anniversary year under the banner of the International Celebration of Kenneth MacMillan.

At the end of the day ballets are not like books which can be given away to delight and inform new readers. It is essential that the works are seen in performance and that opinion and debate about their value



It is easy and financially prudent to programme the great three act story ballets, but many excellent and challenging shorter works are in danger of mouldering forgotten in the attic...

 
and significance can be informed by first hand accquaintance. Companies carry therefore a great responsibility. Under present circumstances without their interest and support for the work and its maintenance in repertoire it remains inaccessible not only to the paying public but to students and scholars, future generations of dancers, choreographers and other artists in the theatre. It is easy and financially prudent to programme the great three act story ballets, but many excellent and challenging shorter works are in danger of mouldering forgotten in the attic like my parents books. If Revealing MacMillan helps persuade the ballet community to pick up some of these, dust them off, explore and disseminate them to a new audience it will have done a great service.



{top} Home Magazine Listings Update Links Contexts
.../jul02/sc_family_heirlooms.htm revised: 2 July 2002
Bruce Marriott email, © all rights reserved, all wrongs denied. credits
written by Susan Crow © email design by RED56