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The 1973 MacMillan production of the Sleeping Beauty


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#1 CHazell2

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 09:49 AM

Hi there. I wonder if anybody here had seen the 1973 production of the Sleeping Beauty by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and whether they could give me their impressions of it as I have heard that it was even more disliked than the 1968 Ashton and Wright production.

I am interested in hearing all about the various Royal Ballet productions of the Sleeping Beauty as they always seem to cause people to take sides either for or against the various productions.

Finally do you think that it was a good idea to revive the Messel production or whether the Royal Ballet should have splashed out on a entirely new production?

#2 rg

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 10:48 AM

british BT members will likely speak more directly to this point, but the macmillan SB was, so far as i can recall, roundly disliked and didn't even stay in repertory long enough to be taken on the then-somewhat-frequent tours to the US.
it's the one production, if mem. serves that croce in one (or more) of her essays on the lineage of SB in england, calls a 'missing link' of sorts b/c US balletgoers never saw it here in the states.
as for a new production vs. the re-do of the messel - the latter followed a full-scale new production - makarova's - which was perhaps even more roundly disliked than the macmillan.
you should be able to read about this in bland's ROYAL BALLET - 50 YEARS and in the more recent royal ballet history by zoe anderson.

#3 CHazell2

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 10:51 AM

british BT members will likely speak more directly to this point, but the macmillan SB was, so far as i can recall, roundly disliked and didn't even stay in repertory long enough to be taken on the then-somewhat-frequent tours to the US.
it's the one production, if mem. serves that croce in one (or more) of her essays on the lineage of SB in england, calls a 'missing link' of sorts b/c US balletgoers never saw it here in the states.
as for a new production vs. the re-do of the messel - the latter followed a full-scale new production - makarova's - which was perhaps even more roundly disliked than the macmillan.
you should be able to read about this in bland's ROYAL BALLET - 50 YEARS and in the more recent royal ballet history by zoe anderson.


I saw the Makerova production twice and while it had its good points, I didn't like the way that she forced the Sergev choreography onto the Royal Ballet.

I did like the scenery though

#4 CHazell2

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 10:58 AM

I just wondered why the Messel production is so revered by everybody in the ballet world. I know that in 1946, it must have been marvellous but the revival does not I think stand up to its huge reputation, mainly I think due to Peter Farmer, who ought to be shot in my opinion.

What do you think about a production set in Tudor times?

#5 kfw

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 02:06 PM

CHazell2, you can find a Ballet Talk discussion of the Royal's revival 2006 revival here -- The Royal's "new" staging of the 1946 Sleeping Beauty

#6 CHazell2

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 02:10 PM

CHazell2, you can find a Ballet Talk discussion of the Royal's revival 2006 revival here -- The Royal's "new" staging of the 1946 Sleeping Beauty


Thank you, but I have already read it. Thanks anyway for replying.

#7 Paul Parish

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 03:51 PM

oops, I see you've already consulted the macmillan version....

Is there any reason to think the king's mime scene (condemning, then pardoning the knitters) in this production is not authentic?

Monica Mason was teriffic as Carabosse in the film of it.

#8 Mashinka

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 02:14 AM

I wonder if anybody here had seen the 1973 production of the Sleeping Beauty by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and whether they could give me their impressions of it as I have heard that it was even more disliked than the 1968 Ashton and Wright production.


I'm afraid I can't agree with the assertion that the MacMillan Beauty 'was even more disliked than the 1968 Ashton and Wright production', as only the critics disliked the A & W production whereas audiences loved it. Setting the ballet in the middle ages upset the ultra conservative critics of the time as it is apparently set in stone that Sleeping Beauty must always appear to be set at the court of Louis XIV. Speaking for myself, if given a time machine to see RB productions of the past, I'd head straight back to that wonderful A & W production (with Margot and Rudolf dancing the leads): it was magical.

MacMillan's 1973 production gave the critics more or less what they wanted, but the production was panned not so much because of any intrinsic failings (though some production details needed changing) but more because of the anti-MacMillan sentiments of the time. In other words it was the producer that was hated rather than the production. I rather think the production did tour to the US and was even more disliked there than at home as I seem to remember Deborah MacMillan recalling in a documentary how an American ballet goer took to following her husband around making vomiting noises.

The Makarova version did indeed follow the standard Kirov-Sergeyev choreography which I considered a grave mistake but it was very handsome to look at and I would have thought that making a few alterations would have been a better option than simply chucking it out in favour of something else, particularly as the RB's vile production of Swan Lake trundles on and on with no hope of any replacement in sight.

I just wondered why the Messel production is so revered by everybody in the ballet world. I know that in 1946, it must have been marvellous but the revival does not I think stand up to its huge reputation, mainly I think due to Peter Farmer, who ought to be shot in my opinion.


Having seen the original Messel version I have to say I can't see much similarity between it and the current version, in fact marketing it as the 'Messel version' is tantamount to a con trick in my view and I find it ironic that current designer Peter Farmer was the designer for the old MacMillan version too. Also ironic is the fact that the RB's rival British company, English National Ballet, has a far better production than the one at Covent Garden and it is in fact a later version by MacMillan.

#9 CHazell2

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 04:28 AM

I wonder if anybody here had seen the 1973 production of the Sleeping Beauty by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and whether they could give me their impressions of it as I have heard that it was even more disliked than the 1968 Ashton and Wright production.


I'm afraid I can't agree with the assertion that the MacMillan Beauty 'was even more disliked than the 1968 Ashton and Wright production', as only the critics disliked the A & W production whereas audiences loved it. Setting the ballet in the middle ages upset the ultra conservative critics of the time as it is apparently set in stone that Sleeping Beauty must always appear to be set at the court of Louis XIV. Speaking for myself, if given a time machine to see RB productions of the past, I'd head straight back to that wonderful A & W production (with Margot and Rudolf dancing the leads): it was magical.

MacMillan's 1973 production gave the critics more or less what they wanted, but the production was panned not so much because of any intrinsic failings (though some production details needed changing) but more because of the anti-MacMillan sentiments of the time. In other words it was the producer that was hated rather than the production. I rather think the production did tour to the US and was even more disliked there than at home as I seem to remember Deborah MacMillan recalling in a documentary how an American ballet goer took to following her husband around making vomiting noises.

The Makarova version did indeed follow the standard Kirov-Sergeyev choreography which I considered a grave mistake but it was very handsome to look at and I would have thought that making a few alterations would have been a better option than simply chucking it out in favour of something else, particularly as the RB's vile production of Swan Lake trundles on and on with no hope of any replacement in sight.

I just wondered why the Messel production is so revered by everybody in the ballet world. I know that in 1946, it must have been marvellous but the revival does not I think stand up to its huge reputation, mainly I think due to Peter Farmer, who ought to be shot in my opinion.


Having seen the original Messel version I have to say I can't see much similarity between it and the current version, in fact marketing it as the 'Messel version' is tantamount to a con trick in my view and I find it ironic that current designer Peter Farmer was the designer for the old MacMillan version too. Also ironic is the fact that the RB's rival British company, English National Ballet, has a far better production than the one at Covent Garden and it is in fact a later version by MacMillan.


Thank you for replying so quickly and I know what you mean about the A + W production, I would have loved to have seen it but I was not alive then, but then I have the photgraphs and my imagination to fill the gaps. I saw the English National Ballet Production and I loved it, I like the mime for Carabosse in that production rather than the Royal Ballet's production as I think it makes better sense. Carabosse is hammering home the curse.

I quite like the Royal Ballet's production of Swan Lake and I don't mind the scenery and I especially like the fact that the choreography is wholly authentic. What don't you like about it?

Can you remember which details in the 1973 MacMillan production needed to be changed? I wish that they had kept the scenery for the 2003 production and just changed the choreography.

How long do you think the new 'Messel' production will last?

#10 CHazell2

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 04:48 AM

Hi there Mashinka. I was just wondering whether you have read the discussion that I had with Mel Johnson on the Awakening Pas de Deux here. Extra PDD In Het Nationale DVD

Can I ask if you remember any more of the Ashton and Wright production as I love to hear about it. Did you see it when they had the long tutus?

I look forward from hearing from you very soon.

#11 Helene

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 05:52 AM

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#12 Mashinka

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 06:46 AM

I can remember the Ashton & Wright production fairly well considering the time that has passed, but rather than production details it was the concept behind the production that I found so admirable; Sleeping Beauty is a fairy story and by moving the action back in time it was easier to accommodate that fact. It's all very well recreating some facsimile of the court of Versailles but in 17th century France fairies didn't simply drop in for christening parties and for those of us that have been to Versailles and perhaps read Nancy Mitford's The Sun King with all its scandals and sexual shenanigans, will find it difficult to imagine a fairy gathering in the Hall of Mirrors. By moving further back in time A & W took us into a period with few accounts of social history. Fairies probably didn't drop in for tea then either, but they could have done. One of the most potent images of the middle ages is the famous representation of The Lady & the Unicorn, now unicorns weren't around then either (at least I don't think they were) but perhaps people had a closer relationship back then to folklore and the supernatural making the period a better setting for an encounter with fairyland. Perhaps there were also some powerful Pre-Raphaelite images that A & W also considered such as the Burne- Jones Briar Rose paintings where Sleeping Beauty is definitely a medieval princess. http://www.berkshire...briar_rose.html

Although I didn't see the first night of this production I'm pretty certain it was danced by Sibley and Dowell, followed by the company's young principals all of whom gave of their best, inspired by the new production as it is so much easier to make an impression in something entirely new than to follow on in the familiar footsteps of illustrious predecessors. Few changes were made to the choreography, just the awakening pas de deux being the biggest change, but the sets were hugely criticized particularly the dark interior of the prologue where the fairies appeared to descend on a beam of starlight. The rocky setting of the vision scene wasn't liked either, nor the marquee setting for the last act. The costumes were marvellous with longer tutus than usual and a really repulsive Carabosse in the form of Alexander Grant with a slimy looking tail protruding from under his ball gown. Carabosse's creatures were actual dwarfs rather than the comedy mice that we get nowadays.

The most controversial aspect of MacMillan's version was dropping the act III coda in favour of the Ivan's, a Russian dance that was included in the Messel version too, but that A & W had dropped and I remember that Aurora had a very unattractive act I costume with long sleeves but taken as a whole that production wasn't the worst I've seen. At the Royal Ballet the Dowell version was by far the ugliest with its strange lop sided sets.

I quite like the Royal Ballet's production of Swan Lake and I don't mind the scenery and I especially like the fact that the choreography is wholly authentic. What don't you like about it?


As with his Beauty I don't like the over bearing sets of Dowell's Swan Lake, the naff Russian setting is ridiculous and I hate the first act maypole dance that takes up the entire stage, they dropped the Ashton waltz to make way for that just as Ashton's Garland Dance has been discarded in the current SB. The costumes for the Swans don't suit everyone and successive Swan Queens (not just Guillem) have gone their own way over the unflattering headdresses. I very much miss the old Ashton pas de quatre in the ballroom as well, though this of course was an interpolation that I think was first seen in Helpmann's production.

A bit off topic, but can I say how very concerned I am about the neglect of the Ashton legacy. Replacing his contributions to the classics with inferior versions is just another example of how the RB seems almost to be air-brushing him from the company's history.

#13 rg

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 07:15 AM

<<Although I didn't see the first night of this production I'm pretty certain it was danced by Sibley and Dowell, followed by the company's young principals all of whom gave of their best, inspired by the new production as it is so much easier to make an impression in something entirely new than to follow on in the familiar footsteps of illustrious predecessors. >>

w/ regard to the quote above, the premiere of this production is a bit of a puzzle: i have a gala program for this first-night of the Wright/Ashton staging that gives Beriosova and MacLeary as dancing Aurora and the Prince; there might have been, i suppose, a substitution in the end that wasn't noted on my copy of the elaborately produced program. If Beriosova and Macleary did dance the first night, that would have meant that this couple, not Sibley & Dowell first danced Ashton's "Awakening PdD" which i THINK was made on Sibley and Dowell regardless of who first danced it, or perhaps there are some 'crossed wires' in this data.

#14 Mashinka

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Posted 01 May 2008 - 01:05 AM

A bit of research on my part last night turned up the information that Beriosova was due to dance the first performance but backed out. Beriosova began withdrawing from all her major roles at about this time.


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