The initiative came from Viviana Durante, a former Royal Ballet Principal who was one of MacMillan’s foremost interpreters, and brings together dancers from three companies – the Royal Ballet, Ballet Black and Scottish Ballet – as the Viviana Durante Company.
The short but intense one-hour programme starts with House of Birds, to a score by the relatively unknown Catalan composer, Federico Mompou. Inspired by a Brothers Grimm tale, it tells of a house where a witch, the Bird Woman, keeps the young people she’s transformed into birds.
All dressed in grey with elbows sticking out like jerky wings, they move around the Bird Woman (Ballet Black’s Sayaka Ichikawa) as if in a trance, later holding her aloft as they acknowledge their hold over her.
Viviana Durante Company, House of Birds, photo Bill Cooper
The mood lightens briefly when a young couple (Royal Ballet Principals Lauren Cuthbertson and Thiago Soares) enter and dance an exuberant, playful pas de deux, where you can clearly see the germ of later trademark MacMillan love duets.
The girl is, of course, lassoed by Bird Woman and turned into a bird; and the extract ends when her lover finds her and tries to bring her back to human form.
The next piece is a blink-and-you-miss-it pas de deux from Danses Concertantes choreographed on music by Igor Stravinsky. MacMillan was attracted by its spiky, jazzy quality and devised a busy, jagged choreography marked by speed and the deliberate blurring of classical lines.
The Royal Ballet’s Akane Takada and Ballet Black’s José Alves, dressed in bright blue unitards with tiny gold crowns atop their heads, danced this tricky duet with verve, all pointed fingers and dizzying pirouettes.
The final piece of the night, Laiderette (little ugly one) goes a lot further into what we now know as typical MacMillan territory. To Frank Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante, it tells the story of a group of itinerant clowns who abandon a young woman (The Royal Ballet Principal Francesca Hayward) on the steps of a house where a masked ball is taking place.
You have never seen a sadder, more bedraggled group of clowns than these; nor a more carefree group of merrymakers than the guests at the ball – a contrast that has always appealed to MacMillan.
Provided with a mask by a Mask Seller, the girl comes to the attention of the host (Thiago Soares), their pas de deux increasingly intense as, initially wary, she comes to believe his protestations of love.
But when the time comes to remove the masks, she is revealed to be bald; and, shown her own image in a mirror, has to confront her own ugliness and consequent rejection.
Assembling and driving this programme was a labour of love for Viviana Durante, given that there are incomplete records of the works; for House of Birds, for example, a dance notator spent eight months watching an old black and white film of the ballet, trying to recover the steps and formations…
The intimate size and atmosphere of The Pit at the Barbican are ideal for these small scale fragments. In short, Kenneth MacMillan: Steps Back in Time is an inspired contribution to the commemorations marking the 25th anniversary of MacMillan’s death.
Age Guidance: 10+
There will be a live relay of the full programme on 19 April on the Royal Opera House Youtube channel.
|What||Kenneth MacMillan: Steps Back in Time Review|
|Where||Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
18 Apr 18 – 21 Apr 18, 19:45, Sat Mat 14:30 Dur.: 1 hour no interval
|Price||£18 (concessions available)|