MacMillan Triple Bill


Triple bill of short ballets choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan---each ballet is quite different and unrelated to the others.

  1. Elite Syncopations. Music by Scott Joplin and others. Stars Sarah Lamb, Mara Galeazzi, Laura McCulloch, Iohna Loots, Valeri Hristov, Paul Kay, Steven McRae, Liam Scarlett, and Jonathan Watkins. Onstage band includes players Deborah Green, John Montague, Stephen Broom, Rhydian Shaxson, Tony Hougham, Sarah Brooke, Rachel Elliott, Ian Balmain, John Shaddock, Lindsay Shilling, Jim Anderson, and Nicholas Ormrod led by Robert Clark, piano player and conductor. Costume design by Ian Spurling; lighting by John B. Reed; staging by Julie Lincoln.

  2. The Judas Tree. Music by Brian Elias commissioned for this ballet. Stars Carlos Acosta, Edward Watson, Bennet Gartside, Leanne Benjamin, Ryoichi Hirano, Andrej Uspenski, Valeri Hristov, Kenta Kura, José Martín, Erico Montes, Michael Stojko, Eric Underwood, Jonathan Watkins, James Wilkie, and Thomas Whitehead. Barry Wordsworth conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House with concert master Sergey Levitin. Designs by Jock McFadyen; lighting by Mark Henderson; staging by Karl Burnett.

  3. Concerto. Music is the Dmitry Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2. Stars Yuhui Choe, Steven McRae, Marianela Nuñez, Rupert Pennefather, and Helen Crawford. Dominic Grier conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House with concert master Sergey Levitin. Jonathan Higgins plays solo piano. Designs by Jürgen Rose; lighting by John B. Read; staging by Christopher Carr.

Film director was Ross MacGibbon. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio. Grade: B

Elite Syncopations involves a supernova explosion of the rag-time music demimonde and proves that MacMillan could make something frothy and funny. Sarah Lamb dominates the galaxy of stars with svelte sexuality and bone-crushing smile. Laura McCulloch and Paul Kay get the most laughs with their don't-try-this-at-home ballet of mistakes and dropped partners. It opens with a delightful stage band and 14 couples:


There are 12 jazz dances with Sarah Lamb as the star of stars:


 Mara Galeazzi gets lots of attention also:


The light-hearted program blends well with the comic chops of Paul Kay:

Two charmers, Liam Scarlett and Iohna Loots:


The best supporting actor is Valeri Hristov, seen in the next 4 shots with Sarah Lamb:


Steven McRae does several brilliant solos:


Leaving him needing some rest in this candid shot:


A colorful crowd:

Laura McCulloch is too big for Paul Kay in this hilarious piece laced with dance disasters:


Didn't mean to drop you!


Here's all the men:


Followed by all the ladies:



Almost all the shots in this piece are full-stage or full-body views, with a few near views thrown in. The rag-time band inspires the whole cast to mindless action, action, action which can't, alas, be adequately shown in still shots.

Then follows The Judas Tree---MacMillan's most controversial work---which deals with lust, betrayal, revenge, gang rape of a woman, murder, suicide, and redemption in an allegory of the resurrection of Christ, all in about 30 minutes. Edward Watson shows a striking ability to portray emotions in his dancing. For dancing the woman in this, Leanne Benjamin deserves a medal from the Queen. Just to give you some idea of the flavor of The Judas Tree, here are a few shots focusing just on Benjamin, the sole woman in this ballet along with 15 sex-starved men at an industrial site.

Benjamin with Carlos Acosta, the foreman of the workers:

The woman in 2 shots with the foreman's best friend, danced by Edward Watson:


Terrible things happen before the woman is murdered:

More terrible things happen as well as a miracle:

Finally, Concerto is an abstract modern ballet with no plot, props, or set. The dancing is nice, but to me easily forgettable. I paid more attention to the music, the Shostokovich Piano Concerto No. 2, an exciting and lyrical piece that was new to me. Here are a 3 screenshots that show how different Concerto is from the other pieces in this title.

Yuhui Choe and Steven McRae:


Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather:

The stars and the corps:

MacMillan was the choreographer of two of our very best ballet HDVDs: the Decca Romeo & Juliet and the Opus Arte Mayerling. Much of his work is dark or imbued with psychological issues;  this triple bill demonstrates MacMillan's range. Elite Syncopations would be suitable for children. The Judas Tree and Concerto are for adults.


Update on 2013-08-26 by Henry McFadyen Jr.

Leanne Benjamin, the sole female in The Judas Tree, retired in June, 2013. I said in my review of Judas Tree that Benjamin, because of her fearlessness in this rough role, deserved a medal from the Queen. I didn't know then that she in fact was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) way back in 2005. According to a piece in the September 2013 Dance Magazine at page 58, Benjamin danced all the classical roles at the ROH but was best known for her McMillian repertoire, "where she would throw herself---often literally---into the seamy yet compelling characterizations." Probably our Judas Tree recording is the best example of why Benjamin was highly regarded.