Viviana Durante Company and Kenneth MacMillan: Steps Back in Time

The Pit, Barbican, London
April 18, 2018

Maggie Foyer

Kenneth MacMillan’s legacy is hard to underestimate. Dancers and audience alike love his work and Viviana Durante has done a great service in persuading directors and dancers from Ballet Black, The Royal Ballet and Scottish Ballet, to find time in their busy schedules to share the stage with new partners and revive some of his early works.

The Pit provided a very different ballet experience.  The smallest black box space at the Barbican complex, it is seldom used for dance, but the cramped stage seemed so right, reminiscent of the period’s tough touring days and inadequate rehearsal space.

Laiderette, shown in its entirety, gave evidence of MacMillan’s early concerns with themes of vulnerability, the outsider and rejection. In 1954 the ballet taste was for clowns and high society, (John Cranko’s Lady and the Fool is the same vintage) and MacMillan later transposed these same emotional themes even more effectively onto his modern and historical characters.

Francesca Hayward with her delicate frame and huge emotional reserves, is ideal as the waif-like urchin that the fashionable set initially find amusing then cruelly reject when her wig and mask are stripped away. The different worlds of brittle affectation at the posh party and tawdry but affectionate muddle of the clowns is sharply defined as Hayward scuttles between the two. Thiago Soares, as the host, showed his character’s inability to deal with emotions in a moving performance. The work has been painstakingly notated by Benesh expert, Mayumi Hotta, from the only remaining record, a grainy black and white film, truly a labour of love and it is a precious record in charting the choreographer’s development.

Thiago Soares and Lauren Cuthbertson in Kenneth MacMillan's House of BirdsPhoto Bill Cooper
Thiago Soares and Lauren Cuthbertson
in Kenneth MacMillan’s House of Birds
Photo Bill Cooper

House of Birds, is a sinister tale of a woman, Lauren Cuthbertson, changed into a bird. Not a new story in the ballet world but given a darker, less predictable narrative by MacMillan. The close grouping of the cohort of ‘enchanted boys’ as they provide porterage of the evil birdwoman, Sayaka Ichikawa, even as she maintains her domination, is imaginatively done. Cuthbertson’s solo, by contrast, is flooded with purity and light, a forerunner of Princess Rose in The Prince of the Pagodas but with no happy ending.

The spiky duet from Dances Concertantes was performed with the necessary cool precision by Akane Takada and José Alves from The Royal Ballet and Ballet Black respectively. One of the unexpected delights of the evening was the mix of dancers that offered new insights and pleasures. I hope we get more such evenings.

Akane Takada and Benjamin Ella in Danses Concetantes by Kenneth MacMillanPhoto Bill Cooper
Danses Concetantes by Kenneth MacMillan
(with Akane Takada and Benjamin Ella)
Photo Bill Cooper