To mark the 20th year since Kenneth MacMillan’s death, the Royal Ballet has mounted a triple bill of his choreographies. And it is typical of Covent Garden’s sometimes ambivalent relationship with him that the three pieces were all first staged in Germany: Concerto was his guide to classical dancing made for the Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin when he became its director; Las Hermanas was created at John Cranko’s invitation for his Stuttgart Ballet; Requiem was a commemoration for this same troupe on Cranko’s death.
Each proposes choreographic qualities which we may overlook amid the tremendous power of such blockbusters as Romeo, Manon, Mayerling: the penetrating accuracy, the emotional resonances, of his dance language. I saw early performances of these ballets in Germany: their integrity of means was astonishingly strong, and remains so.
Requiem, that luminous realisation of Fauré’s score, was searchingly done, notably by Leanne Benjamin who unerringly conveyed in the Pie Jesu that the dance was inspired by the sight of MacMillan’s young daughter dancing to this music. But she was distracted, as is every small child, and obliquely the choreography touches, through MacMillan’s transformations, the heart of the music and its prayer. The performance, from musicians and dancers, was nobly expressive.
The return of Las Hermanas to the repertory, the sexual tensions of Lorca’s drama shown without compromise, is welcome. The action broods, in Georgiadis’s tremendous black and white design, and establishes a sense of festering eroticism and social despair. A dominating matriarch (the grand Elizabeth McGorian) and her five marriageable-in-order-of-seniority daughters, and a priapic suitor (Thiago Soares, admirable), are the players. A too-willing youngest girl (Melissa Hamilton, lusciously true), a jealous middle sister (Laura Morera, superlative), and the emotionally desperate eldest daughter (Zenaida Yanowsky, all anguish) are the tragedy’s agents.
The resolution – the eldest’s hopes betrayed, the youngest’s suicide, the mother’s final bolting of the doors against life – find MacMillan at his most analytically precise. Here is a work of numbing bleakness, in a staging that re-asserts its significance in the choreographer’s creativity.
The opening Concerto seemed to me a dress rehearsal for a performance: dutiful, but unconcerned with the choreography’s joys.