The Judas Tree, the heart of a new MacMillan triple bill, was the choreographer’s last major creation. It offers a summation of ideas, of themes in his artistic life, concerning the nature of identity, revealed in dance of rare imaginative daring.

His first ballet, Laiderette, told of a girl masking the tragedy of her persona, her baldness. The early Noctambules showed a group baring their natures to a hypnotist. As his choreographic imagination developed, so this fascination with personality was more brilliantly studied, with Mayerling the most searching enquiry into a psyche. In a succinct late creation, Sea of Troubles, a view of Hamlet, personalities were doubled, shifting, and MacMillan went on a fascinating journey to seek the truth of a “self”.

With The Judas Tree, we have a hallucinatory account of male anger, brutish lust, betrayal and need, circling round woman’s identity as mother, beloved, abused flesh; as Magdalen, Virgin, sanctified mater dei.

Set on a Canary Wharf building site peopled by construction workers, and evoking the nature of Judas’s betrayal of Christ, it also details the sexual and social manners of our time. It is a palimpsest, with meaning layering and commenting on earlier meaning, where MacMillan’s concerns with the subterfuges of personality receive startling and startlingly truthful realisation. You look at The Judas Tree and you discover shifts in social, emotional, even theological perceptions about betrayal.

The choreography is threaded with ideas that emerge, disappear, return. The dance is searingly alert in its imagery – the Foreman desperately seeking to fix the Woman’s identity and her fate by drawing round her supine body with chalk, as in old police movies – and allusively linked in its episodes, resonant with echoings of lust, of brutality, of need.

It was given, on Tuesday night, with superb dedication by its cast. Carlos Acosta has inherited the central Judas role created by Irek Mukhamedov, and dutiful as his performance is, it lacks both the stunning physical intensity of Mukhamedov’s portrait and its emotional authority.

There can be no praise too great for Edward Watson’s account of the victim of the betraying kiss, so potent, so anguished in its vehemence, wholly truthful; nor for Leanne Benjamin as the Woman, varied and vivid in dance, beautiful, everywhere commanding; nor for Bennet Gartside’s integrity and force as the Second Man; nor, indeed, for the magnificent male ensemble.

About Concerto and Elite Syncopations, which complete this fine programme, I hope to comment next week. ()

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