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Most recent performance

There are currently no scheduled performances of Song of the Earth. It was last on stage 29 May—4 June 2015.


MacMillan succinctly summarized his ballet: 'A man and a woman; death takes the man; they both return to her and at the end of the ballet, we find that in death there is the promise of renewal.'


Kenneth MacMillan first heard Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde in 1958. He immediately fell in love with Mahler's elegiac masterpiece and in 1959 asked if he could use the piece in a new commission for The Royal Ballet. But the ROH Board refused, concerned that such a major musical work was not suitable accompaniment for ballet. It wasn't until 1965 that MacMillan was able to create his Song of the Earth, for Stuttgart Ballet on the invitation of his friend John Cranko. The ballet was instantly acclaimed; The Royal Ballet took the piece into their repertory only six months after its Stuttgart premiere.

MacMillan introduced a narrative thread to the piece's six movements, drawing on imagery from Hans Bethge's free translation of the six T'ang-dynasty poems that Mahler used. Marcia Haydée created the role of the woman, a figure of loneliness isolated from the movements of the corps de ballet around her. The man was created by Ray Barra, and the Messenger of Death by Egon Madsen, then only 23 years old. In MacMillan's hands Death becomes not a figure of evil but a gentle, ever-present companion. Earthbound, non-classical movements morph seamlessly into modernist curves in a work of breathtaking beauty and power.

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