8 May 2018 at 4.20pm | Comment on this article
Ballet has long had a reputation as an artform which favours delicate, elegant and precise movement. In the middle of the 20th century, however, one man changed all that: British choreographer Kenneth MacMillan.
MacMillan's ballets radically shifted the artform, creating dark psychological dramas that kicked against what their creator saw as the establishment, not just through their subject matter, but also through the choreographic language that they employed.
'We literally had to glide along the floor in every slide, and take-off after a lift as we were travelling', former Royal Ballet Principal Darcey Bussell tells the choreographer's wife Deborah MacMillan in this film, screened as part of a recent live cinema relay of Manon. 'And it was so hard for the guy because nothing was ever square or straight. He wanted every angle, lean and change in direction'.
'If you're telling a story about great love which then becomes traduced and broken down by circumstance, then you have to say to the audience "these people have fallen passionately for each other, so all restrictions are off"', says Deborah. 'An upright pas de deux [duet] with everything perfectly in place and vertical is not going to give the audience that impression that they've risked everything'.
MacMillan's battles with his demons are well documented, most recently in the BBC's documentary Ballet's Dark Knight, a must-watch for any fan of dramatic ballet and currently available to watch on-demand via BBC iPlayer.
'He always had doubts - he was always terrified going up to the first night of anything', Deborah MacMillan says of her late husband. 'Manon came after a very tough time with the critics. He'd just taken over in 1970 as Artistic Director and the first ballet he did was Anastasia. They threw the book at him and he had a bit of a breakdown... Ballet was stuck in a classicism that wasn't prepared to move forward'
'But because he had a great track record of great casting, I think people generally trusted what he was trying to do. They'd have gone to the ends of the earth for him.'
Manon runs until 16 May 2018. Tickets are still available.
The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Sarah and Lloyd Dorfman, John and Susan Burns, The Gerald Ronson Family Foundation, Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson and the Friends of Covent Garden. Original Production (1974) made possible by The Linbury Trust.