So here at number 9 we have Kenneth MacMillan’s production of The Rite of Spring, first performed by The Royal Ballet in 1962. This production definitely had something of the original about it, in that this was an innovative, if not risky choreography for The Royal Ballet. There was no dancing on pointe and no tutus, but there was flat footed aborigine-inspired dance moves and skin-tight costumes with luminous orange and yellow hand prints all over.
MacMillan’s most obvious innovation was to switch hemispheres and, in tandem with his designer, Sidney Nolan, to re-imagine The Rite of Sping as some sort of nightmarish vision of aboriginal Australia. The dancers wore ochre red and brown unitards marked with handprints, suggestive of the daubed bodies of aboriginal peoples. The moves were tribalistic, but not entirely primitive. Indeed, Monica Mason, who was cast as MacMillan’s ‘Chosen One’, has said that some of the choreography stemmed from a combination of her Zulu heritage and some dance moves she did at a party that MacMillan was at with her in the 1960s. Look out for the Twist and the Mashed Potato!
But it was not only in the choreography that primitive tribal notions met with modern contemporary life. On the backcloth of the second scene was a golden mushroom like totem pole, which Nolan called ‘Moonboy’, but to the Cold War audiences it seemed like the cloud of a nuclear bomb explosion. It would seem that this production could not totally exclude modernity in its return to primitive dance (not that I think that was MacMillan’s goal). In my opinion actually made it a more successful re-imagining of The Rite of Spring, referencing something relatable in this foreign alien dance.
In 2011 The Royal Ballet took up MacMillan’s choreography once more, revived with the aid of Monica Mason, the original Chosen One. Below is a short interview with her by The Royal Opera House about the rejuvenation of this ballet. Take a look…