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Kenneth MacMillan

Biography

Kenneth MacMillan (1929–92) was one of the leading choreographers of his generation. His close association with The Royal Ballet began when he joined The Sadler's Wells School (now The Royal Ballet School) aged 15. He was Director of the Company 1970–77 and Principal Choreographer 1977–92. His ballets are distinguished by their penetrating psychological insight and expressive use of classical language. These qualities are demonstrated in his many works for the Company, which include Romeo and Juliet, Gloria, Manon, Mayerling and Requiem.

MacMillan was born in Dunfermline and discovered ballet while evacuated in Rutford during World War II. Aged 15 he forged a letter from his father to Ninette de Valois requesting an audition. He joined Sadler's Wells School on a full scholarship, later entering the Company. He created his first major work, Danses concertantes, in 1955 and went on to become one of the world's leading choreographers. Positions away from the Company included Director of Deutsche Oper Ballet Berlin (1969–9) and Associate Director of American Ballet Theatre (1984–90). He continued to create masterpieces throughout his life, including The Prince of the Pagodas (1989) and his last work The Judas Tree in 1992. Significant muses included Lynn Seymour, Christopher Gable, Monica Mason, Marcia Haydée, David Wall, Darcey Bussell and Irek Mukhamedov.

MacMillan died of a heart attack backstage at the Royal Opera House during a revival of Mayerling. He was succeeded by his wife, artist Deborah Williams, and daughter Charlotte.

Videos

News and features

Who was Abbé Prévost?

Who was Abbé Prévost?

16 June 2014

The man who created Manon Lescaut was, like his heroine, full of contradictions.

With a slip of the foot: How rehearsal mishaps and improvisation can leave a lasting legacy in ballet choreography

With a slip of the foot: How rehearsal mishaps and improvisation can leave a lasting legacy in ballet choreography

19 May 2014

George Balanchine isn't the only choreographer to be influenced by the environment of the rehearsal studio.

Watch: Carlos Acosta - 'Ballet productions are constant works in progress'

Watch: Carlos Acosta - 'Ballet productions are constant works in progress'

7 April 2014

The Cuban ballet superstar speaks about his production of Don Quixote and offers cautionary words for young dancers lured by fame.

The personal inspiration behind Kenneth MacMillan's Gloria

The personal inspiration behind Kenneth MacMillan's Gloria

29 January 2014

How the wartime experiences of MacMillan's father influenced his haunting tribute to the fallen.

Mayerling: "Emotionally exhilarating and exhausting"

Mayerling: "Emotionally exhilarating and exhausting"

1 December 2012

Edward Watson and former dancer David Wall on the power of MacMillan's ballet.

Gallery: Kenneth MacMillan's career in photos

Gallery: Kenneth MacMillan's career in photos

16 November 2012

Take a look at behind the scenes images of one of ballet's great choreographers.

Photos

Kenneth MacMillan

David Wall, Kenneth MacMillan, Jennifer Penney and Anthony Dowell during the curtain call for Manon © 1981 Royal Opera House Collections / Donald Southern

Mara Galeazzi and Edward Watson in Mayerling © ROH/Johan Persson, 2005

Tunic won by Jonathan Cope and dress worn by Darcey Bussell in The Prince in The Prince of the Pagodas 1989 © ROH 1989

Dress worn by Darcey Bussell as Princess Rose in The Prince of the Pagodas 1989 © ROH 1989

Tunic won by Jonathan Cope as The Prince in The Prince of the Pagodas 1989 © ROH 1989

Kenneth MacMillan during rehearsals for La Fin du jour. © 1979 Roy Round

Lynn Seymour and David Wall in rehearsals with Kenneth MacMillan for Mayerling. © Roy Round 1978

Melissa Hamilton rehearsing Las Hermanas © ROH 2012

Las Hermanas in rehearsal © ROH 2012

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Las Hermanas. © Bill Cooper / ROH 2012

Kenneth MacMillan © Roy Round

Kenneth MacMillan during rehearsals for La Fin du jour. © 1979 Roy Round

Natalia Makarova, Kenneth MacMillan and Mikhail Baryshnikov in rehearsals, 1981 © 1981 Roy Round

Kenneth MacMillan after being presented with the 1978 Evening Standard Award © Donald Southern

Kenneth MacMillan © 1951 Royal Opera House/Roger Wood

Kenneth MacMillan as The Great Admirer of Mademoiselle Piquant in Children's Corner © 1948 Royal Opera House/Roger Wood

Members of the corps de ballet in Gloria, The Royal Ballet © ROH/Bill Cooper, 2011

Carlos Acosta in Requiem © Tristram Kenton & Johan Persson /ROH 2011

Kenneth MacMillan, Beryl Grey and John Field in Ballet Imperial, 1950 © 1950 Royal Opera House/Roger Wood