"Sex and Violence...."
After the director Nicholas Hytner had tentatively asked Kenneth MacMillan to create the movement for a new production of Carousel, MacMillan asked him what he thought the undertone of the musical was about. "Sex and Violence" said Hytner..."Well that's what I do" replied MacMillan.
This theme was one of many which ran through the very fabric of his work, and none sets the precedence quite as strongly as his 1960 ballet The Invitation.
Good friends with the playwright John Osborne, MacMillan told him that seeing his play "Look back in Anger" in 1956 had made him realise that "everything in my world was merely window-dressing". Suddenly the world of narrative ballet had opened up, way beyond previous traditional subject matter; now it was a language in which to reflect the world he inhabited.
He drew on characters that he knew and that is why his ballet The Invitation was such a shocking ballet to watch. It's naturalistic portrayal of innocence, youth and sexual betrayal and the final scene of rape and abandonment makes it a difficult ballet to watch.
The anecdote of Dame Ninette de Valois asking MacMillan to re-choreograph the climactic and violent scene of The Invitation, is indeed a true one. When seeing the final rehearsals of the ballet, de Valois (or 'Madam' as she was known to the ballet company) asked MacMillan if he would consider the violent rape of the teenage girl to happen off stage, with the horror of the act to be somehow reflected in the acting of the other characters. MacMillan refused, and de Valois respected that decision. The ballet was received with raptuous applause and gave Lynn Seymour her first opportunity to show the audience her extraordinary acting skills.
Revived now in 2016, Gary Harris, Jonathan Howells and Jonathan Cope have restaged this ballet. Most of the scenery and costumes have had to be remade to account for the larger size of the Royal Opera House stage.
I photographed Olivia Cowley as The Wife and David Donnelly as The Boy, both in the second cast of the Invitation (performing 31 May 2016). I can already see the intensity of this work come through in preliminary rehearsals and there's a buzz in the air about its return. You can reserve your ticket at the ROH Box Office here..