April 10, 2007 5:17 pm

Mayerling, Royal Opera House, London

Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling is making a welcome return to the Royal Ballet repertory. It is a work of art: daring, complex, seeming to take on too much, and then showing entire mastery in controlling the mass of events, the psychic anguish, the stranglehold of sexual need, emotional deprivation and dynastic anxieties, that are its choreographic concerns.

After nearly three decades on the stage, it is not diminished in its effects, in the probing skill of its dance, in the power of its Georgiadis design and in John Lanchbery’s arrangements of Liszt. Nor has the company performance lost in force: minor characters are well defined, the leading performances remain, by and large, stunningly well done.

On Monday night Carlos Acosta appeared as Rudolf. His playing was slightly less fraught than in his debut a couple of years ago, but Mara Galeazzi draws the many-faceted and ultimately sympathetic Countess Larisch with impeccable understanding of character and of dance, and Leanne Benjamin is a Mary Vetsera cool in calculation and hot in quest for passion and ultimate oblivion. Very impressive was Zenaida Yanowsky as the Empress Elizabeth, with an ice-bound heart – her final scene with Larisch alight with feeling – and notably intelligent (as always, I must add) was Thiago Soares as one of the Hungarian officers.

And so it goes. We are dragged into this maelstrom of desire, despair and frustration, breathe the stuffy air of the Hofburg, and are also aware of how cunningly MacMillan tells his tale, how grandeur can give way to the hinted frustrations of the closet scene between Rudolf and the Empress and the vengeful horrors of his wedding night; how the trio of Larisch, Mary and her mother (charmingly played by Elizabeth McGorian) is a brief, delicately made scherzo that will bring death in its wake; how the entire ballet hinges on the scene of the concert at the Hofburg and Rudolf’s contemplation of himself at the eye of the storm.

We watch, and, I believe, we weep. As you may perhaps gather, here is essential dance-viewing.
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