MacMillan Triple: Concerto, The Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations, a second view, Royal Ballet, March 2010

These three Kenneth MacMillan ballets represent strikingly different aspects of his choreography. As a starter we had the classical lines of Concerto, to Shostakovich’s second piano concerto; then the dramatic intensity of The Judas Tree, to specially commissioned music by Brian Elias; and finally the riotous fun of Elite Syncopations, to a jazz band playing rag-time music, mainly by Scott Joplin. This was my second visit, in order to see the alternative cast, so I’ll comment mainly on the dancers, other details being given on my previous posting.

Marianela Nuñez in Elite Syncopations, photo by Johan Persson

Elite Syncopations was just as good as last time, and Marianela Nuñez was outstanding in the second female solo, so musical, and with enormous precision and attack. Her partner in the waltz was Thiago Soares, showing excellent stage presence and looking entirely fresh despite starring in the previous ballet! Laura Morera danced the first female solo, having already performed well with Nathalie Harrison and Yuhui Choe in Scott Joplin’s Cascades. Choe was utterly charming in this, and in her later partnership with Liam Scarlett. Ludovic Ondiviela danced well in the final male solo, but the biggest applause was for Nathalie Harrison and Michael Stojko as the tall lady and short man in the Alaskan Rag. Their comic timing was excellent, and he with his glasses and bearing reminding me of that great comedian, Eric Morcambe, albeit in a shorter version.

Sarah Lamb & Ryoichi Hirano in Concerto, photo by Johan Persson

The hyper-colourful costumes for the performers and the jazz band in this ballet are delightfully absurd, and it made a fine end to an evening that started with MacMillan’s 1966 ballet Concerto, where Laura Morera and Brian Maloney did a fine job as the principal couple in the first movement, and Sarah Lamb with Ryoichi Hirano did a lovely pas-de-deux in the slow second movement. All four were joined by Laura McCulloch for the last movement, and the whole company danced with precision and excellent spacing on stage.

This 25 minute ballet makes a fine start to the evening, which then plunges into the intense darkness of The Judas Tree, where Thiago Soares gave a menacing portrayal of the Foreman (the Judas character). He was ably supported by Sergei Polunin as the Simon Peter character who stands by as Johannes Stepanek (the Jesus character) is murdered after being kissed on the cheek by the Foreman. Mara Galeazzi was the girl (the Magdalen character) who is gang raped by the workmen, and then killed by the Foreman after she accuses him of being responsible. It’s a horribly dark story, but the dramatically physical choreography keeps the momentum going at full tilt, and is a fine example of how well MacMillan could use the abstract choreography of dance to give a representation of sex and violence. Despite the subtext from an apocryphal gospel, the whole ballet can simply be viewed as a nasty story on a building site on the Isle of Dogs, with the main tower of Canary Wharf looming up in the background.

As part of a triple bill, The Judas Tree goes in the middle, and although some commentators have criticised the choice of Elite Syncopations to follow it, I find the playful absurdity a welcome relief. For me this triple bill is well judged, and whichever cast one gets, it’s an evening of ballet well worth seeing.

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