Mayerling @ Royal Opera House, London

performed by
Edward Watson, Mara Galeazzi, Iohna Loots, William Tuckett, Cindy Jourdain, Sarah Lamb, Elizabeth McGorian, Steven McRae, Ursula Hageli, Laura Morera, Gary Avis, Sergei Polunin, Bennet Gartside, Yohei Sasaki, Thomas Whitehead, Alastair Marriott, Johannes Stepanek, Romany Pajdak, David Pickering, Sian Murphy, Francesca Filpi, Leanne Cope, Michael Stojko, Valeri HristovThe beauty of Kenneth MacMillans Mayerling , which premiered in 1978, is the way in which the steps capture so astutely the mood of the drama.

Of course, this could be said of many a ballet, but the achievement here is all the greater since the plot is so offbeat that the steps correspondingly need to be all the more bizarre.

Mayerling is based on the true story of the mysterious double death of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and the 17-year old Mary Vetsera in 1889, he most likely killing her before shooting himself.

Raised on tough love, detached from his mother, and forced into an unhappy political marriage, the violent Rudolf sought solace in a series of affairs, the repercussions of which always threatened to rear their ugly head.
The genius of MacMillans choreography lies in its ability to present in Rudolf a character who is ill at ease with all that surrounds him. His first solo dance features smooth turns that are either accompanied by one leg that spins out of accord with the rest of the body, or followed by a quick, almost awkward, leap. The set, where the bare central stage is surrounded by the trimmings of power (portraits of ancestors and rich tapestries), emphasises the claustrophobic atmosphere, whilst the framing of the entire ballet with the burial of the two bodies hints at the almost apocalyptic nature of Rudolfs descent towards death.

In this instance, the evening is made by Edward Watsons superb performance as Prince Rudolf. As he dances with a range of captivating partners, Watson maintains a certain detachment that is revealing of Rudolfs state of mind. Clearly, however, he needed to establish a great rapport with his partners behind the scenes in order to portray disconnection on stage. In this way, his flirting with Romany Pajdaks Princess Louise sees him forcibly yanking her around as they dance. We then see him beg in front of Cindy Jourdains Empress, twist and toss Iohna Lootss Princess Stephanie, and flirt with Laura Moreras Mitzi Caspar as a cosmetic way of soothing his tormented mind.

But the human interest is at its greatest as he dances with Mara Galeazzis Mary Vetsera. As rough with her as with anyone (he practically rips her clothes off at one point), the dancing still reveals how there is a bond between these two characters that is unmatched anywhere else in the ballet. This bond does not necessarily equate to conventional love, but it is highly potent nonetheless.

Elsewhere Sergei Polunin, Bennet Gartside, Yohei Sasaki and Thomas Whitehead deliver fine performances as the Hungarian Officers who manhandle and surround Rudolf as they try to persuade him to support their separatist cause. As they loom over him, they might represent Rudolfs conscience because, although the Officers have latched onto him as someone whom they might feasibly win over, one senses that deep down Rudolf knows he should be pursuing this noble cause, but lacks the mental strength to do so.

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, under the baton of Barry Wordsworth, is also in fine form, demonstrating a keen awareness of dramatic requirements as it tackles Franz Liszts score, and the net result is an opening to the Royal Opera Houses new ballet season that could hardly be bettered.

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