Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Tuesday was the first stage and piano call for the revival of my late husband Kenneth MacMillan's ballet Isadora: everyone is on edge. There's a huge journey before first night, only one week away. I came home wanting to slash my wrists! There's a sign in the production office saying that for every person out there on stage, there are another three supporting backstage, unseen.

I'd say there were 23. I stay clear of the choreography: that's the business of Karl Burnett, the notator, and Julie Lincoln, who's staging it for me. I'm a painter, my input is in the visual departments -- costumes, wigs, props, set, the stage picture -- and in this production there are new technical elements in film and sound projection. A large team has been working away for months.

This revival of Isadora is a big responsibility: Kenneth's original sprawled over two hours as he tried not only to tell Isadora Duncan's story, but to get into her psychology, set her against her time, and present some sense of the extraordinary impact she made. She was an iconoclast who broke all the conventions at the end of the 19th century, who relished the tumultuous early 20th century until she was engulfed and swept aside by the speed at which things were happening and her own tragedy. He had a dancing Isadora and a speaking Isadora (she was constantly haranguing her audiences) and, as always, Kenneth wanted to use cuttingedge technical effects which weren't possible in the old Covent Garden House. He had boundless interests which he brought into his ballets: everything fuelled his imagination and he was always pushing the envelope. He knew exactly what he wanted to extract from all that, but he never got the chance to rework Isadora.

We spent a long time trying to find a way to do justice to Kenneth's ideas while cutting it down to the hour or so that Monica Mason, artistic director of the Royal Ballet, asked for four years ago. Composer Richard Rodney Bennett was magnanimous, allowing cuts to his score -- and the breakthrough came when I met two film-makers, Lynne Wake and her husband Christopher Bird, who make brilliant use of period film to give Isadora her context. Kenneth would have leapt at their ideas.

On Thursday each cast gets a runthrough to get a feel of how the timing works with the sound and film. Isadora's commentary is now a voiceover, recorded with Nicola McAuliffe last summer; Andrew Bruce, the sound designer, has made it seem as if we're inside her head as Isadora looks back on her life. No orchestra yet, so it's still difficult to judge how things are going: it will bring a huge and essential extra dimension. …

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