This is certainly not a ballet to watch if you need cheering up! But if you want to see a tormented protagonist, an anguished set of mistresses and wives and a tragic story portrayed with the highest technical ballet skill and powerful acting – step right up!
Mayerling was a story that fascinated dancer turned choreographer Kenneth MacMillan who, “showed a flair for using the classical vocabulary in unorthodox ways, and as early as 1958 bgan exploring historical fact as the basis for a ballet.” In the true story of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary, MacMillan saw an opportunity to continue his passion for wanting, “ballet to do more than most choreographers believe it is capable of.” He truly pushes the boundaries of ballet into new territory with his tragic depiction of the last eight years of Prince Rudolf’s life and his delve under the facade of the Royal court which reveals a set up of sexual liaisons and dysfunctional relationships.
The tour de force which is Steven McRae played Crown Prince Rudolf with outstanding technical skill and a full commitment to portray this harrowing character to the last detail. When watching on the live stream we have the benefit of close ups, which showed his masterful grasp of all the emotions needed to take the audience on this tragic journey with him.
In the intro and interval sections, Darcy Bussell discussed at length the number of challenging pas de deux required in the role, which McRae performed flawlessly. A cast of multiple ballerinas made up his partner list including Meaghan Grace Hinkis who played his wife Princess Stephanie with great delicacy and characterisation and performed their challenging pas de deux very well. Add to that his mother performed by Kristen McNally, whose pas de deux was heart-breaking with her coldness, and the wonderful Sarah Lamb. Her technical skills, artistry and ability to communicate emotion through dance is only matched by McRae which created multiple transfixing pas de deux which included breath-taking acrobatic and boundary-pushing choreography which was all performed beautifully.
Although the tragic scenes are all-consuming to watch and have a hold on you in that way, the brothel scene and entertainment from Rudolph’s friends were welcome relief. James Hay performed a foot-perfect job of Bratfisch, and Mitzi Caspar was played with great character and skill by Mayara Magri. Mention also must go to the four soldiers, whom the ROH didn’t name in the cinema cast list, and a search on the ROH website doesn’t yield the names of either. Truly unknown soldiers who danced very well!
MacMillan’s wife spoke in an interval about how she likes to see new dancers taking on the mantle of the Mayerling characters. Surely MacMillan himself would have felt excited and proud with this excellent cast who surely performed this ballet to the highest of standards.