Divertimento

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This was the only pas de deux that Kenneth MacMillan ever created for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Its single performance was the high point of a gala evening at the 1964 Bath Festival, whose director was Yehudi Menuhin. On the day of the performance Fonteyn heard that her husband, Roberto Arias, had been seriously wounded in an attempted assassination. She decided to dance at the performance before leaving for Panama to be at his side.

Fonteyn and Nureyev had rehearsed the pas de deux several months previously before leaving on a tour of Australia. The photographer Keith Money recalled their rehearsal in Bath, along with a moment of naivety from Menuhin about the nature of choreography.

“Rather surprisingly the dancers had somehow remembered most of the work during the interim, and the first stage rehearsal was progressing satisfactorily when Menuhin suddenly stopped playing, waved his bow at the two dancers, and said: ‘I think, here, something a little lighter, more cheerful, perhaps’.”

The Alexander Bland column in The Observer recorded the eventual performance as follows.

“That a gala audience in the English provinces, faced with a modern dance arrangement, to a bit of unaccompanied solo violin by Bartok, should respond not with an icy rattle of gloved hands but with determined shouts for an immediate encore is surely a signal worth noticing. Is public taste on the move? The presence and playing of the Festival director, Yehudi Menuhin certainly contributed much: the dancing of the extraordinary couple contributed more; but most credit must go to the choreographer, Kenneth MacMillan, who showed again that he has not only found a personal style but that he can deploy it to exploit his dancers’ virtues. This short piece, written in the sinuous, emotional groping á terre style of the best bits of his recent Images of Love was proved a success, all the keener for being so improbable.”