Opening Night: Mayerling
A look at Kenneth MacMillan's ballet based on a hundred year old scandal.
Edward Watson as Crown Prince Rudolf and Iohna Loots as Princess Stephanie in Mayerling © ROH / Bill Cooper 2009
Mayerling is a complex, forceful and uncompromising ballet. It deals with big themes of politics, privilege, infidelity, violence and insanity. It is a ballet that takes you to the edge of your seat and holds you there to feel the full agony and ecstasy that the young Crown Prince Rudolph must have felt during his short life. It is the gripping and decidedly adult story of the double suicide scandal that hit the Austro-Hungarian court over a hundred years ago.
Kenneth MacMillan‘s ballet was first performed in 1978 to audiences who immediately took to its dark and troubled themes. Despite early mutterings about the complexity of the plot, it is recognised and appreciated as a modern classic.
Although the underlying themes are strong and dark, the ballet is well rounded and enjoyable. Amongst the intensely emotional pas de deux and daring lifts between Prince Rudolph and Mary Vetsera, his 17-year-old lover, there is also pretty and athletic dancing. Rudolph’s cab-driver Bratfisch was danced on Monday by Steven McRae, who provided some fluid and delightful moments. Mara Galeazzi as the young Baroness Mary Vetsera was point perfect and a tantalising mixture of youthful exuberance and sophisticated temptress.
Any account of Monday evening’s performance, however, would be incomplete without acknowledging the formidable and accomplished performance of Edward Watson in the leading role of Prince Rudolph. By turns childish and unsure, then violent and cruel, now lustful and passionate he danced our hearts out by evoking sympathy and disgust in equal measure.
It is a tribute to MacMillan’s story telling that both the depravity and difficulty of Rudolph’s life are so graphically illustrated. It is a hugely demanding role but Watson seemed to become more sure footed, and his dancing more daring, as the evening wore on.
Once the tale had been told and the dreadful deeds digested, the audience needed a moment of quiet to take in all that had happened. As the final curtain fell there was silence before Watson stood alone to take his bows. The auditorium exploded with applause and appreciative whistles.
In the cold light of day it now seems almost impossible to find the right words to describe this stunning performance. But isn’t that the whole point? Without a word, ballet shows us aspects of humanity that our chattering tongues never come close to finding. It’s well worth seeing if you can make it before the 10November 2009.
Caroline Eveleigh, Getting into Excellent