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Ballet Essentials: Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling

Our quick introduction to this shattering work from the master of dark narrative ballet.

By Paul Kilbey (Content Producer (Ballet))

13 April 2017 at 11.43am | 4 Comments

Profound psychological intensity

When it burst onto the Covent Garden stage in 1978, Mayerling broke new ground for ballet. Kenneth MacMillan’s fourth full-length work was unprecedented not just for its sordid subject matter but also for its psychological intensity. Almost four decades later, it continues to shock and enthral.

The mysterious truth

Working with screenwriter Gillian Freeman on the scenario, MacMillan chose to tell the remarkable true story of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary, the troubled son of an emperor who died in what appears to have been a murder-suicide. The full truth behind the events at the Mayerling hunting lodge in 1889 were covered up by Imperial edict, but the facts that we know are sinister and fascinating.

Vivid characters

A host of memorable characters haunt the Imperial court, from Rudolf’s adulterous parents to the inscrutable Marie Larisch, who draws the teenage Mary Vetsera into Rudolf’s world with tragic consequences. Rudolf’s entourage also includes his driver and entertainer Bratfisch and a quartet of Hungarian Officers pressing Rudolf for political change.

A demanding central role

It is Rudolf himself who is Mayerling’s magnetic centre, a paranoid narcissist obsessed with sex and death. MacMillan draws Rudolf’s character through some remarkably sinuous choreography, but he also makes huge demands on the dancer as an actor – the role is one of the great challenges of the male ballet repertory.

Gripping pas de deux

The gradual deterioration of Rudolf’s mind is shown most powerfully through the ballet’s series of pas de deux, laying out his relations with the many women in his life. At different times he partners his mother the Empress, his former lover Marie Larisch, his mistress Mitzi Caspar and of course Mary Vetsera, first in Rudolf’s room, and later at the hunting lodge itself.

Mayerling runs 28 April–13 May 2017. Tickets are still available.

The production is given with generous philanthropic support from Julia and Hans Rausing, the Paul Ferguson Memorial Fund, Richard and Delia Baker, John and Susan Burns, Marina Hobson OBE, The Gerald Ronson Family Foundation and Celia Blakey.

By Paul Kilbey (Content Producer (Ballet))

13 April 2017 at 11.43am

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged Ballet Essentials, by Kenneth Macmillan, Crown Prince Rudolf, essentials, Gillian Freeman, Kenneth MacMillan, Marie Larisch, Mayerling, Production

This article has 4 comments

  1. Julia responded on 13 April 2017 at 6:37pm Reply

    The main event of the ballet season 2016/2017. Waiting to see my favorite Edward Watson and Zenaida Yanowsky together.

  2. Stuart Dixon responded on 16 April 2017 at 2:36pm Reply

    So have I, can't wait to see Edward and Natalia together, should be some fireworks.

  3. Ballet Yas responded on 29 April 2017 at 3:11pm Reply

    Unbelievably superb production of Mayerling: showcasing the incomparable dance actor Edward Watson in his finest role, on stage with 7 other of the company's finest principals in a combination that can never be repeated after this. It is inexplicable to me, and many others, why, given the exceptional casting, ithe ROH aren't broadcasting this landmark RB production as part of the Macmillan anniversary. Heartbreaking and a missed opportunity. Watson has matured and brings even greater pathos to the role; Osipova deploys all her reckless daring to the role of Mary and adds a glittering depravity. Hayward brings courage and genuine hurt and fear to Princess Stephanie and Sarah lamb is at her all time finest as the scheming but devoted Countess. The soon to be departed glorious Zenaida brings fire and ice to the role of the Queen. All beautifully told through a wonderful marriage of Macmillan's masterful choreography with afabulous score and glorious still fresh designs. A triumph that should be enjoyed on screens worldwide!

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