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Three Ballets by Kenneth Macmillan - Concerto, Elite Syncopations, Judas Tree [Blu-ray]

Macmillan / Orch Of Royal Opera House / Wordsworth
Release Date: 11/16/2010 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 7074  
Composer:  Dmitri ShostakovichScott JoplinBrian Elias
Conductor:  Dominic GrierRobert ClarkBarry Wordsworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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Also available on standard DVD

Kenneth MacMillan


Marianela Nuñez, dancer
Yuhui Choe, dancer
Steven McRae, dancer
Kenneth MacMillan, choreographer

Dmitry Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102
Royal Opera House Orchestra
Dominic Grier, conductor

Elite Syncopations

Sarah Lamb, dancer
Valeri Hristov, dancer
Steven McRae, dancer Read more /> Kenneth MacMillan, choreographer

Scott Joplin and other Ragtime composers
Royal Opera House Orchestra
Robert Clark, conductor

The Judas Tree

Carlos Acosta, dancer
Leanne Benjamin, dancer
Edward Watson, dancer
Kenneth MacMillan, choreographer

Brian Elias
Royal Opera House Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth, conductor

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, March 2010

- Introductions to each ballet piece by Deborah MacMillan

Picture format: 1080i High Definition
Sound format: LPCM Stereo / DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
Running time: 104 mins
No. of Discs: 1 (BD 50)



3 BALLETS BY KENNETH MACMILLAN Royal Ballet; Robert Clark, Barry Wordsworth, Dominic Grier, cond; Royal Op House O OPUS ARTE OA BD7074 D (Blu-ray); OA1038 D (DVD) (114:00) Live: London 3/23–3/24/10

Elite Syncopations. The Judas Tree. Concerto

The British choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan died in 1992 at the age of 63, suffering a heart attack backstage at Covent Garden during a performance of one of his ballets. This release, documenting March 2010 performances by the Royal Ballet of three of his works, is a reminder of the breadth of his artistic imagination. It should be welcome both by dance aficionados and by more casual ballet consumers.

MacMillan, who served as artistic director of the Royal Ballet from 1970 to 1977 and then as its principal choreographer until his death, is remembered for the darkness and serious content of many of his works for the stage. But Elite Syncopations is, as the liner notes put it, “a short, featherweight confection” that continues to delight audiences. This production is pure eye candy: The ragtime band of about a dozen players is onstage wearing costumes that are only slightly less extravagant and colorful than those of the dancers. The choreography is alert to the rhythmic essence of the musical sources, which include five pieces by Scott Joplin as well as material from James Scott, Joseph F. Lamb, Paul Pratt, Max Morath, Donald Ashwander, and Robert Hampton. There are many humorous elements and MacMillan is not above a cheap laugh, as in “The Alaskan Rag,” which pairs a very tall ballerina with a much shorter male dancer, whose enthusiasm makes up for his (intentional) terpsichorean shortcomings. The instrumental ensemble plays well, though without the last word in angular rhythmic snap—the syncopation part of Elite Syncopations seems underplayed. Robert Clark, the keyboardist and conductor, plays a standard grand piano but also an upright instrument that’s meant to provide a honky-tonk sonority. The latter sounds like a cheesy electronic fake to me, resembling a harpsichord in its upper register.

The Judas Tree, the choreographer’s final ballet, couldn’t be more different, MacMillan at his most disturbing. (A boxed warning on the back of the Blu-ray/DVD case alerts the potential viewer of “scenes of a violent and sexual nature” and, just last year, The Independent wondered if the work was “the most barbarous ballet of modern times.”) The setting is a claustrophobic, graffiti-marked construction site littered with the carcasses of ruined automobiles. Into this dangerous environment arrives a young, flirtatious woman who encounters the construction Foreman, his two friends, and a dozen workmen—who ultimately gang rape and murder her. Regretful, the Foreman hangs himself and the girl returns to life. Charges of misogyny have been heard since the 1992 premiere but the work is, overtly, an allegory that focuses on Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus—represented, respectively, by the Foreman and one of the friends. (As far as the sole female character is concerned, the notes explain that the Gnostic Gospel depicts “the human soul as a woman who was chaste while in heaven, but a prostitute when on earth.”) MacMillan commissioned music from his countryman Brian Elias (b.1948), who produced a highly evocative, often intensely aggressive atonal score in which steel drums and other percussion have a dominant role. Predictably, the dancing is characterized by a testosterone-laden athleticism, though the pas de deux with the Foreman and the Woman is strikingly elegant, especially as presented by the fluently powerful Carlos Acosta and his compact partner, Leanne Benjamin. The audience looks pretty devastated when the lights come up at the conclusion of the half-hour work.

Last on the disc is Concerto of 1966, an abstract treatment of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (though the choreographer’s wife, Deborah, maintains in an “extra feature” that MacMillan didn’t believe any ballet could be truly abstract). The costumes are simple and there are no sets. The dancers’ movements are quite responsive to the spirit of the music—the songful central Andante supports an enthralling extended duet with Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather, and the choreography is impressively attuned to the metric irregularities of the sprightly finale. Jonathan Higgins does a much-more-than-adequate job with the solo piano part and Dominic Grier ably conducts the Royal Opera House Orchestra in Concerto. (Barry Wordsworth, the Royal Ballet’s music director, has the duty for The Judas Tree. )

Sonics for The Judas Tree and Concerto , with the orchestra situated in the Royal Opera House pit, are excellent, especially the DTS-HD Master Audio multichannel version on the Blu-ray disc, which is satisfyingly spacious and detailed. The onstage band for Elite Syncopations is miked less successfully; one hears every note produced by the (excellent) trombonist, while the tuba sitting right next to him is indistinct. The picture quality of the BD is stunning, with remarkable edge definition. Each ballet is preceded by a short, skipable introduction that provides commentary from dancers, Monica Mason (the Royal Ballet’s current artistic director), Deborah MacMillan, and others. These, and the performances themselves, must be selected from the main menu—the disc won’t just play all the way through without the viewer’s intervention. No big deal.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint

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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 2 in F major, Op. 102: Excerpt(s) by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Dominic Grier
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Written: 1957 
Elite Syncopations by Scott Joplin
Conductor:  Robert Clark
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1902; USA 
Work(s) by Scott Joplin
Conductor:  Robert Clark
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
The Judas Tree by Brian Elias
Conductor:  Barry Wordsworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra

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