Dark Descent

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Kenneth MacMillan choreographed the short chamber ballet Dark Descent for the ITV arts series Tempo, produced in Birmingham, which was shown late on Sunday nights and presented variously by Lord Harewood and the actor Leonard Maguire. The programme showed MacMillan working with Marcia Haydée and Ray Barra from Stuttgart Ballet and answering questions about his method of working. He based the ballet, an extended pas de deux, on the Orpheus myth and on a grieving husband’s pursuit of his dead wife to the underworld. Following their collaboration on Dark Descent, MacMillan asked the programme’s designer James Goddard to work with him on his next ballet, La Création du Monde.

Tempo (the predecessor of LWT’s Aquarius, which in its turn begat The South Bank Show) was an attempt to challenge the BBC’s hegemony in arts magazine programmes. This edition of Tempo was one of the ITV network’s earliest broadcasts of classical dance. For a time, the dance scholar Peter Brinson was the programme’s editor.

In 1982 the director Jack Gold followed a somewhat similar format to that of Dark Descent, when he filmed a documentary for ITV’s Granada region on MacMillan rehearsing two other dancers from Stuttgart Ballet. A Lot of Happiness, the programme’s eventual title, also had parallels to Dark Descent in its invocation of the Orpheus myth.