Ballet Heaven

One more cultural note before I get back to business.
Seeing the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden was an experience not to be missed. The ballet was “Mayerling,” by Kenneth McMillan, with the lead role danced by the up and coming star, Edward Watson. There are about four lead female roles, all danced flawlessly. Even the corps looks great, especially the men, and the women are a joy to watch because they are beautiful athletes, not anorexic stick figures.
I didn’t mind paying $85 bucks for my awesome seat in the left stalls with an outstanding view of both the stage and pit. I was so close the dancers and the conductor that I could see every facial expression. Still, the whole thing is a bit pricey at $8 for a pre-show glass of wine.As for the work itself, you don’t always think of point shoes and gunfire on the same stage, but this is what my son would call “spearchucking” ballet, where almost everybody dies dramatically at the end. Here’s what company’s web site says:

From the outset Kenneth MacMillan pushed ballet beyond the boundaries of fairytale kingdoms. Nowhere is this more compellingly successful than in Mayerling. It achieves a nervous balance between sprawling grandiosity and choreographic invention, beginning with the pomp of a royal wedding for Crown Prince Rudolf, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. MacMillan immediately plunges us into a sordid world of degenerate depravity where sex is both a weapon and a last resort. Rudolf’s bride (a cousin he neither knows nor loves), her sister, his mistress and his mother are all tangled up in his obsessions. The ballet compresses the final eight years of Rudolf’s life into a relentless downward spiral of political intrigue, drugs and murder. It culminates in 1889 with the suicide pact at the hunting lodge known as Mayerling between Rudolf and his 17-year-old mistress, the fervidly neurotic Mary Vetsera.

Yes, there’s a lot of gunplay, with incredible staging and costumes throughout: a rainy graveyard and a rowdy bar scene. It’s ballet on a scale rarely seen in the US, where audiences are served endless half-baked version of Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. I would rethink the costume in the third act that made it appear that Prince Rudolph forgot his trousers. At least you could appreciate Watson’s more athletic features, or in other words, nice buns!My delightful seat mate, Jean from South Wales, is a friend of the talented conductor Barry Wordsworth. The orchestra performance of the score by Lizst was a treat all by itself. During the “intervals” Jean took me on a grand tour of all the various salons, where you can reserve lavish champagn packages or just look down on the Covent Garden market.

Through it all, I thought of my dear teachers, Richard Ellis and Christine DuBoulay, who danced with this company when it was known as the Sadler’s Wells, before going to the US to start their ballet school in Chicago. As the princpals took their bows and were showered with flowers from the audience, I could hear Christine’s voice saying, “Your calls, girls!” The dramatic flair and technical prowess of the company would have made them both proud and I am so fortunate to have studied with them.