Review – Mayerling (2009) – Royal Ballet


Kenneth Macmillan’s works don’t really hit me right. Thus it took the offer of £20 stalls seats (from the Sun, thanks guys!) to convince me to go see Mayerling at the Royal Opera House. Sure, it was the opening night of the Royal Ballet’s season (yay!) and I have kind of got a thing for your capital R Romantic works (even though this is Victorian, I still felt it shared a lot of the feeling of Doom and Passion that Wuthering Heights did), but fin de siecle Vienna isn’t quite the same thing. But then… £20 seats, Ed Watson as the Prince, and Mara Galeazzi as his death-wish girlfriend? With bonus Sarah Lamb and Steven MacRae? It did seem like there was a good chance of excitement after all.

I will start off with the positives. First, this is a great male dramatic role. Well, actually, no it’s not. Watson was on stage nearly constantly, but he was almost always looking somewhat tortured, though he did alternate that with “mean” and “lustful.” Sadly, the expression of “character” served to frequently mar the dancing – too much dragging his feet around, a sad lack of lovely leaps. His ability to partner and flip women in the air was astounding, but in the nuptial night scene with his hated bride (played by Iohna Loots), I found myself tiring of the constant twists in the air and flips over his shoulder, etc, etc. I consider the skillful creation of these moves to be a hallmark of MacMillans choreography, but so many of them packed together and in such a negative context created no pleasure in my eyes, merely a desire for the scene to be over and something else to happen.

The next positive is the fab start to act 2, a scene “set in a seedy club.” I loved the plumed hat-wearing can-can type girls, with their lacy pantaloons and trampish ways; it made for a lively change from the wretched end of the previous act (and it’s always kind of fun to see ballerinas putting on the tart). However, the dance of the prince’s mistress, Mitzi Caspar, was dull (if nicely executed by Laura Morera). I did enjoy the dance done by the male corps and the prince; it was a good chance for the Royal Ballet men to strut their stuff (and I feel that too often big “corps” dances are all women or couples; just men is a treat).

The act ended on a fun note with the bedroom scene between Mary Vetsera and the Prince. Vetsera was a great Bonnie to the prince’s syphillitic Clyde; her passion for his skull and handgun showed that, as far as being nuts went, she matched him pecan for pecan. His weird, frantic, lustful dancing was managed far easier with her than with poor, virginal Princess Stephanie; they very much seemed in tune with each other’s dementia.

I’ll interrupt the narrative to bring up my third positive, which was the great costumes. From the Victorian Hapsburg court to the gartered dance hall demoiselles, I found myself again and again distracted by having so much to look at on stage – a feature that would probably discourage other companies from mounting this show. However, I’d suspect the real reason they won’t mount it is the same reason I left after act two; it just isn’t really that good. I couldn’t get emotionally committed to the characters and the choreography wasn’t interesting enough to make me want to put up with the grim reality of what a 10:30 end time would mean to my ability to function at work the next day. And if that’s how I feel, how would it go over in Omaha? I really want to see more new story ballets, but this modern one (1978) just leaves me dry. Why the Royal Ballet has done this over a hundred times is a complete mystery to me. At least now I know that even from the fourth row, there’s no point in my bothering to see Mayerling.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday October 7th, 2009. It continues through November 10th and will doubtlessly be revived over and over again, which will give me more excuses to patronize Sadlers Wells. As near as I can tell I’m the only person who didn’t like this ballet but, you know, there always has to be one of us.)

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5 Responses to “Review – Mayerling (2009) – Royal Ballet”

  1. TTC Says:

    Fraid we’re going to disagree on this one. I haven’t seen this current run yet so i can’t comment on the quality of the dancing (I moved my tickets to catch the rather dreadful new production of Turandot at the ENO this evening) but Mayerling is possibly my favourite ballet. I’ll wax lyrical about it when I finally get round to seeing it later this month but personally I don’t think they revive it enough. Different strokes for different folks I guess.


    • webcowgirl Says:

      That is a really fair thing to say! I think, though, that listening to people that enjoy it will probably eventually result in my getting the “eye” for what I should like. When I first saw Balanchine (when I was 20 or so) I didn’t get what was so good about him, either! And look at me being fannish about Merce. I highly approve of people having different tastes, it keeps the selection rich.

      On the other hand … maybe I just don’t have the taste for the depressing Gothic-type stuff. Hard to believe, though!

  2. Emilia Says:

    Shame that it did not appeal to you but where would we be if we all liked the same stuff, no?

    For me the whole thing about Watson & MacMillan is not the power of the jump or the cleanness of the turns but more about the beauty of the line, the contemplation of a slowly drawn arabesque or attitude that seems to extend out forever, the expansiveness of his line to portray an extreme individual. It’s a very different way of flashing technique and it suits this type of choreography so well. I think MacMillan would have adored him!

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Well, I would really enjoy a chance to go with you to another ballet and actually have conversations with you about what you are enjoying. MacMillan is so different to what my “ballet receptors” are used to experiencing that I expect I could use some lessons in how his style should be read. (It would probably also be good for me to see some shows when I’m not perenially exhausted but only time and improved health can take care of that.)

  3. Review – MacMillan Triple Bill (Concerto, Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] some truly amazing manipulation of the lead ballerina by the two men partnering her. And Mayerling, which I saw this fall despite suspecting I wouldn’t enjoy it, was a grind. But, still, I feel that I should be […]

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