A Lot of Happiness

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"It's like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle. You have to find each little piece - and it has to be the right piece. This is a game. And I like this game." Granada Television had asked Kenneth Macmillan to choreograph a new ballet specifically for television, from scratch. The director Jack Gold and a camera team then followed the making of the piece - the rehearsals at the Northern Ballet School, and the final TV studio recording - over five days. The result was a documentary, A Lot of Happiness, shown on the ITV network. Macmillan worked with two of his favourite dancers – Birgit Keil and Vladimir Klos, both from Stuttgart Ballet. The choreography was to music from Chopin and Gershwin. Jack Gold questioned MacMillan as cameras eavesdropped on the rehearsals. For the Chopin pas-de-deux, MacMillan’s starting point was the Orpheus legend – “but the audience needn’t know that”. This gave him a set of working images and moods, determining a progress from uncertainty to sadness to rejection. “In the end this may not have all this meaning. It may be just a pas-de- deux. But it’s helping me find the steps.”

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The programme’s title came from MacMillan’s instruction to Keil and Klos to show ‘a lot of happiness’. Peter Williams, writing for Dance and Dancers, was struck by the accidents of the creative process. “Why did he choose a particular step at this moment? Why this position rather than that? Because here Birgit Keil’s arms defined a satisfying sculptural ‘hole’; because there what MacMillan had been aiming for didn’t work and what Keil had done instead was far better. There was one sudden, accidental inspiration with ravishing results. After MacMillan had got Klos to throw Keil into an airborne double tour, he hit on the idea of the catch becoming a clinch and a kiss. ‘A double turn, which is very gymnastic, ending in a realistic kiss. I want to shock the audience’. This raised the interesting question of the appeal of MacMillan’s choreography in its mingling of stylised classical steps with everyday gestures or movements anyone would recognise. ‘I think I use more naturalistic gestures than most other choreographers.’ ”

The satirist Clive James, the then TV critic of The Observer, was struck by the Chopin pas-de-deux’s layer of unintended poignancy; Poland’s Communist regime had declared martial law in the week the programme was broadcast. He praised the documentary as ‘brilliantly directed’. “The completed job was a fully adequate television tribute to that most organic of artistic events, the MacMillan pas de deux. In fact, if MacMillan’s dance numbers got any more organic, you would have to ring the police. ‘I’m trying to get a bit sexy now,’ he confided, tying Vladimir and Birgit into a reef-knot.”