The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, London


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The Independent Culture

It’s twenty years since the death of Kenneth MacMillan, one of The Royal Ballet’s defining choreographers. His ballets, particularly his story ballets, are still at the heart of the company’s repertory, adored by dancers and audiences alike.

The company marks this anniversary with a triple bill that shows MacMillan’s range, from the bright Concerto to the abstract drama of Requiem.

At the centre of the bill, there’s a rare revival of Las Hermanas, a seething melodrama MacMillan created for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1963. Based on Lorca’s House of Bernarda Alba, it’s a story of five frustrated sisters, kept from marrying by their stern mother. It has strong individual moments within a framework that doesn’t click.

As the eldest sister, Zenaida Yanowsky is humiliated by her own dignity. Grappling with her aggressively sexual fiancé, danced by Thiago Soares, she twangs with disgust and a sense of lost opportunities. Melissa Hamilton, as the youngest sister who has already started an affair with the fiancé, has a reckless sense of youth and freshness. Laura Morera’s jealous middle sister lets the cat out of the bag, dancing low, springy jumps that look both explosive and held in: you can see the repression and the dam bursting in the same moment.

What’s missing is the sense of madness and need that drives them all to it. Though MacMillan’s storytelling is clear, the story doesn’t bite. The mother and the man are caricatures of oppression or lustful masculinity. The ballet is full of obsessive repetitions, from the sisters’ angry, stabbing footwork to Frank Martin’s insistent harpsichord music, played by Thomas Trotter. I don’t believe the rage: Ray Barra’s staging is full of good performances, but this enclosed world doesn’t come to life.

Concerto is a springy work, danced to Shostakovich’s lively second piano concerto. In the opening movement, Yuhui Choe and Steven McRae are gorgeously musical. Snappy, syncopated steps melt into flowing poses before they scamper on again. Sarah Lamb is elegant in the lyrical second movement, partnered by Ryoichi Hirano. Kate Shipway was the nimble solo pianist.

Requiem goes from shuffling grief to serene calm. Despite a few rough edges, this was a muscular, focused performance. Carlos Acosta curls and reaches in his sorrowful solos. Leanne Benjamin dances the central woman with intelligent serenity, while Marianela Nuñez leaps ardently through her dances.

In repertory until 5 December. Box office 020 7304 4000