Saturday 27 February 2010

A Different Drummer

I have recently finished reading Jann Parry's A Different Drummer, her biography of the choreographer Kenneth Macmillan. It is a mammoth book, perhaps too long, which goes into his career and life in full detail, with descriptions of all the ballets. I felt that in the life parts, Parry included rather too much detail, biography is after all the art of selection. But having summaries of all his ballets was useful as they are not all common currency nowadays and a reader cannot easily re-capture them in the way that you can find recordings of music or reproductions of pictures. Choreography is a fragile and dangerously transient art.

I first saw Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet around 1973, with Natalia Makarova making her debut as Juliet shortly after her defection and the late David Blair as Romeo. I went on to see Anastasia, with Lynn Seymour, Manon, with Anthony Dowell making his debut as Des Grieux, the premiere of Mayerling plus a variety of the one act ballets including such forgotten gems as The Four Seasons. The UK premieres of Requiem and Das Lied von der Erde were both highly anticipated events.

Parry's book helps to fill in the background to these events. Demonstrating how Macmillan's talent seemed to be fuelled by drugs and neuroses, and how the backdrop to the productions seems to have been one of almost constant in-fighting and back-biting at the Royal Opera.

Where I think Parry fails is in the treatment of Macmillan's troubled sexuality. Perhaps because many of the people mentioned in the book are still around, she seems to take what she has been told at face value and notably plays down any possible same-sex encounters that he had. I felt that there was far more going on under the surface which Parry didn't uncover. Though she does an excellent job in relating Macmillan's psychological troubles to the ballets he created.

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