Watch live rehearsals of Kenneth MacMillan’s The Judas Tree on World Ballet Day

Sarah Kirkup Mon 2nd October 2017

The Royal Ballet rehearses MacMillan’s last work, with music by Brian Elias, as part of a worldwide 22-hour live stream of dance, writes Sarah Kirkup

Royal Ballet dancer Anna Rose O'Sullivan in rehearsal (Andrej Uspenki)

Royal Ballet dancer Anna Rose O'Sullivan in rehearsal (Andrej Uspenki)

Audiences from around the world can watch live rehearsals of Kenneth MacMillan’s The Judas Tree, to a commissioned score by Brian Elias, as part of World Ballet Day 2017. On Thursday October 5, from noon until 5pm, the Royal Ballet opens its doors to viewers on Facebook Live, providing behind-the-scenes access to classes, rehearsals and interviews. In the lead-up to the Kenneth MacMillan celebrations later this month, during which the Royal Ballet performs several of his ballets to commemorate 25 years since the British choreographer’s death, audiences can watch rehearsals of Jeux, The Judas Tree and Elite Syncopations.

Jeux was created by Vaslav Nijinsky in 1913 to an impressionistic commissioned score by Debussy, but the choreography was subsequently lost. In 1980, MacMillan reconstructed elements of the ballet and in 2012, Wayne Eagling, then director of English National Ballet, recreated those elements and completed the work. Ahead of the performances at the Royal Opera House’s Clore Studio on October 18, 19 and 24, the Royal Ballet’s rehearsal of the work will be live-streamed for World Ballet Day. Similarly, audiences can watch rehearsals of two other MacMillan works, Elite Syncopations – to the music of Scott Joplin and other ragtime composers – and The Judas Tree. To a commissioned score by Brian Elias, The Judas Tree was MacMillan’s final work, premiered in the year that he died and a culmination of the choreographer’s preoccupation with themes that appear in many of his ballets: fear, oppression, sexuality and identity. The collaboration between Elias and MacMillan hearkened back to the days of Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes; instead of giving Elias a detailed scenario, MacMillan urged him to write an orchestral work that was valid in its own right. It was a positive experience for both men and, had MacMillan not died prematurely at the age of 62, Elias feels sure that they would have worked together again.

As part of the Royal Ballet’s contribution to World Ballet Day, the company is teaming up with other UK companies – Birmingham Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Northern Ballet and English National Ballet – to provide pre-recorded content. One highlight is the English National Ballet rehearsing Song of the Earth, the ballet MacMillan created in 1965 to Mahler’s Das Lied von de Erde – six songs set to German translations of eighth-century Chinese poetry. Mahler’s ‘farewell’ to the world, composed during a period of personal turmoil, was regarded as ‘unsuitable’ ballet music by the Royal Opera House when MacMillan suggested it, and in the end he choreographed it for Stuttgart Ballet, after which the Royal Ballet quickly acquired it. It is one of MacMillan’s most breathtakingly beautiful works, a response both to Mahler’s music and the ‘orientalism’ of the original poetry.

But it’s not all about MacMillan on World Ballet Day. Part of the Royal Ballet’s live screening is dedicated to a rehearsal of The Wind, Arthur Pita’s first ballet for the Royal Opera House’s main stage which receives its premiere in November. Based on the 1928 silent film of the same name, this one-act narrative ballet features a new score from British musician and composer Frank Moon, whose distinctive, eclectic music has been widely used for ballet and theatre productions in the UK and the US.

The first World Ballet Day was held on October 1, 2014, and has since grown hugely in popularity, last year reaching an audience of more than 6.7 million on partner sites throughout the course of the year. This year’s event comprises 22 hours’ worth of live streaming, not just from the Royal Ballet but also from Australian Ballet, the Bolshoi, National Ballet of Canada and San Francisco Ballet, along with 21 guest companies.

Tune in on October 5 via the Royal Ballet’s Facebook Live page or worldballetday.com

For more on Brian Elias and The Judas Tree, listen to Gramophone’s podcast interview with the composer

To buy tickets for any of the Royal Ballet’s forthcoming productions, including those forming part of ‘Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration’, visit roh.org.uk; Sarah Kirkup presents a Royal Opera House Insights event on MacMillan’s Music on October 24

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