A triple bill of one of the 20th century’s greatest choreographers is almost too rich a mix. But such is the variety of work produced by Kenneth MacMillan in his career that judicious selection can provide an evening of balance and poise. And so it proves.
A scene from Las Hermanas from the Triple Bill at the Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
The engine driving this programme is supplied by MacMillan’s mentor and friend, John Cranko. It opens with the pure abstraction of Concerto whose bright, colour-coded ensemble architecture is built around a central pas de deux of lush and subtle dynamism allegedly based on the barre warm-ups of MacMillan’s muse, Lynn Seymour. With Shostakovitch’s Piano Converto no 2 informing the steps, MacMillan revels in the interplay of groups, moving them around at the end like galloping horses, though there is some noticeable untidiness in the red team.
The second piece, Las Hermanas, is a densely textured narrative ballet distilled from Lorca’s play The House of Bernarda Alba. Created for Stuttgart Ballet under Cranko’s artistic directorship, it captures the heady incense of repressed sexuality from the outset, with the youngest daughter (Melissa Hamilton) running wild while her virginal sisters are struggling to break free of their mother’s tyrannical grip. There is an awful lot of acting going on but MacMillan’s psychological orchestration and instinctive theatricality keep it just the right side of melodrama. The pas de deux between the eldest sister (Zenaida Yanowsky) and her suitor (Thiago Soares) is a vivid expression of inexperienced sexuality colliding with rampant machismo and deeply uncomfortable to watch.
The best is saved for last. Requiem, MacMillan’s tribute to Cranko (who died at 45) is an unequivocal masterpiece. Employing Cranko’s own innovative dance structures and subversive gestures, MacMillan adds a layer of spirituality and puts it all together in a work to Faure’s Requiem that is not so much a ballet as a transfiguration. With a set that looks like a Perspex cathedral and loaded with religious iconography both Christian and pagan, it contains some of the most breathtaking moments in ballet - including soaring, airborne lifts, ritually encircling formations, mourning pietas and celebratory ascensions. Performed by the cream of the Royal Ballet - with an outstanding solo from Leanne Benjamin and Rupert Pennefather rarely better - this is a sublime experience.