Old favourites and new ventures are on the cards, as Scotland's national ballet company continues to represent the country with innovation and style
When Sir Kenneth MacMillan created The Scandal at Mayerling for the Royal Ballet in 1978, he had 90 dancers at his disposal. Perhaps that's why, despite the work's popularity, nobody else in the UK has dared touch it.
But Scottish Ballet has never shied away from a challenge, and in September 2020 a brand new production of the ballet will open in Edinburgh. The 40-strong company may not have the same vast ranks as the Royal Ballet, but what it lacks in numbers it more than makes up for in innovation and imagination.
'The Scandal at Mayerling is an iconic 20th century classic,' says Scottish Ballet's artistic director, Christopher Hampson. 'And I'm so excited about staging it because Lady MacMillan, Sir Kenneth's widow, has given us the opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes today and see how Scottish Ballet would tell that story. It's wonderful that she has put that trust in us. So although it's an existing work, it's a springboard from which we can leap from.'
Inspired by the tragic real-life story of 30-year-old Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary and his 17-year-old mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera, Mayerling is known for its intricate pas de deux and compelling drama. None of which will be diminished in any way by the reduced personnel.
Scottish Ballet dancers in MC 14/22 by Anjelin Preljocaj / credit: Andy Ross
'We're using all of Kenneth's original choreography and the same score,' explains Hampson, 'but there will be some adaptations in terms of the scenes we present, and the order we present them in. So it's two acts rather than three, and because there will be far less pageantry around Rudolf, we'll really focus in on those iconic, key dramatic moments in his life.'
And if there's one thing Scottish Ballet does well, it's drama – as demonstrated by its 2019 Edinburgh International Festival hit, The Crucible. Which will soon follow in the footsteps of previous Scottish Ballet triumph, A Streetcar Named Desire, when it visits the US in May. Choreographed by Helen Pickett, The Crucible is scheduled to perform at two venues, the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina, but Hampson is hopeful the company will go down equally well this time and more invites will follow.
'I don't want to jinx it, but I know that with Streetcar we took an iconic American story and said look, you could tell it another way – and they loved it,' says Hampson. 'Our production showed reverence to their own history of writing, but also said there's always another viewpoint. And I know that's what we've done with The Crucible too – so if they liked our treatment of Streetcar, I'm really excited to see what they think of The Crucible.'
L to R Andrew Peasgood, Christopher Harrison and Bruno Micchiardi in Scottish Ballet's The Crucible by Arthur Miller / credit: Andy Ross
One of the reasons Hampson attributes the company's success both at home and abroad to, is its ability to think outside the box. When David Dawson created Swan Lake for the Scottish Ballet in 2016, it was distinctive and stripped back. Four years later, the production is coming back (touring Scotland in April) – as is Peter Darrell's adored and adorable Nutcracker, for Christmas 2020.
Before then, the company is making its Linbury Theatre debut at the Royal Opera House in London, with the incredible MC 14/22 by Angelin Preljocaj (first performed by Scottish Ballet at the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival) paired with Sophie Laplane's Sibilo. A feather in Scottish Ballet's cap, and further proof that the company's fan base and reputation isn't restricted to its homeland.
'It's vital that we fly that creative flag for Scotland – it's part of our remit as a government funded company and we're proud to do it,' says Hampson. 'And of course the thing to remember is, we only get these invitations because we're doing something different.
'If we were a national ballet company that was doing yet another traditional Swan Lake or another traditional version of a classic, well there's plenty of that around and perhaps the world wouldn't look to Scotland. What I think we do get attention for, is that we always look at what's relevant and what makes an impact beyond our stages, and that keeps us current.'