Magazine article The Spectator

Careless Approach

Magazine article The Spectator

Careless Approach

Article excerpt

Dance

Romeo and Juliet (Royal Opera House)

The artistic genius of Kenneth MacMillan will be celebrated with a series of events, starting in October with an international dance conference and continuing with performances by the major British ballet companies. The news was officially given shortly before the opening night of the Royal Ballet's new run of Romeo and Juliet, arguably MacMillan's most popular and internationally known creation. The announcement could not have been more timely and welcome, given that the performance I saw indicated clearly that the way the MacMillan repertoire is presented today desperately needs some serious rethinking.

As a choreographer, MacMillan was not just the creator of pretty steps and technically demanding sequences aimed at displaying the ballerina's virtuosity. A true man of theatre, MacMillan wanted his work to carry messages that went beyond the limits of the often naive and preposterous ballet narratives; he was thus one of the few 20th-century dance-makers to make the four-centuries-old ballet idiom speak effectively to 20th-century audiences. His choreography demanded and still demands a great deal of dramatic participation that transcends the characteristic balletic acting most dancers are used to. And, what is more significant, all members of the company, whether they be principals or members of the corps de ballet, must delve into a deep reading of the work's dramatic essence in order to bring it alive.

Despite his modern, expressive and, in some instances, expressionistic approach to dance-making, MacMillan never betrayed the well-established canons of the classical theatre dance form; in every creation, therefore, a complete understanding and rendition of the narrative must be complemented by the same technical 'diamond' perfection 19th-century classics such as Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty require.

Alas, this is not what I saw the night I went, for I was confronted with a dramatically mushy and choreographically messy rendition. The theatrical drive of the 1965 work, which stems from a well-balanced alternation of choral scenes and intimate passages as well as the seamless blend of acting and dancing mentioned above, was thwarted by a stylistically, technically and theatrically careless approach to the original text. …

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