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The Royal Ballet first performed Mayerling in London in 1978, and it is now once again gracing cinema screens across the world, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House. 40 years on from its debut, the choreography is still just as daring and the story still as scandalous as when was first told. The dance was dynamic and lively, and the storytelling gripped the audience from the very start. It’s fair to say that this performance was five stars.
Created for the Royal Ballet by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Mayerling is based on the true story of Crown Prince Rudolf (Steven McRae) and his lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera (Sarah Lamb) and is set against the backdrop of the Austrian-Hungarian royal court in 1889. Widely regarded as one of the most physically demanding, as well as emotionally challenging roles for a male dancer, it is easy to see why the ballet has gained its notorious status with McRae on stage almost the entire 3 hours. As well as the physical demands of the role, Mayerling is also an acting masterclass as the audience watch Prince Rudolf growing ever more deranged and emotionally unstable.
The most intense moments on stage are undoubtedly the numerous pas de deux Rudolf dances with the women in his life, especially those danced with Lamb. The extraordinary choreography between the Prince and his lover is almost like a fight scene, violent and unpredictable, and it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen. It is an incredibly physical and dark performance, dramatically contrasting with romantic stereotypes many associates with ballet. To partner with this, we see the astonishingly complex and grand sets at the Royal Opera House, with backdrops built to mock a King’s palace. Designer Nicholas Georgiadis and Scenario Gillian Freeman truly outdid themselves.
It is the storytelling element of Mayerling which is its real triumph. Aided by beautiful costume design which brings the Austrian-Hungarian court to life, as well as the incredible music of Franz Liszt, Mayerling hurtles through royal scandals, politics and Rudolf’s spiral into madness. With a plot line which feels more like a Greek tragedy than one belonging to a ballet, Mayerling is unlike any other dance you’ve ever seen.
It is clear to anyone who sees it why the Royal Ballet continues to keep Mayerling as part of their repertoire. Dark, dangerous and daring, while watching the time flies by and despite its 3-hour runtime, you can’t help but want more. Overall, this production of the classic Mayerling was beautiful and captivating. The costumes were elaborate, and the staging was intricate, the whole thing was a spectacle worth seeing that made a rainy Sunday afternoon in Lancaster pass seamlessly.
If you feel the urge to see a ballet, there are more Stage on Screen ballets coming soon, the Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker on December 9th and the Bolshoi’s The Nutcracker on December 23rd. I cannot urge enough how amazing it is to see these traditional ballets of the past come to life on stage.
For more information, head to dukes-lancaster.org