The one-act Anastasia in Berlin was the first time Kenneth MacMillan had used film in tandem with choreographed action on stage. Checkpoint was the second – and with less happy results. The audience in Manchester had to wait for almost an hour while technicians completed work on Elisabeth Dalton’s set; scaffolding, back-projection and huge electronic eye. The work itself, MacMillan’s first for the Royal Ballet since Romeo and Juliet, was twenty minutes long.
Dalton’s design images were redolent of the still-divided Berlin in which MacMillan had so recently lived; the infamous Wall with its watchtowers, cameras, armed guards and sudden death. Choreographically the ballet, patently inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, was an extended pas de deux with interpolations from a corps of seven dancers. MacMillan depicted a future totalitarian society in which all expression of human feeling was forbidden and love could only be furtive.
For the ballet’s protagonists (danced by Svetlana Beriosova and Donald MacLeary), this meant assignations in the shadows, huddles against walls and even a vertiginous duet half way up a sheer wall in their attempts to avoid the all-probing video eye. In the end, they are discovered; the wall which was their refuge now devours them. The ballet ends with only the couple’s hands visible as they are swallowed by the wall and vainly try to reach other.
Whatever the production intentions, the set appeared cumbersome and unominous. The purportedly all-seeing eye was blinded when a back-projector broke down. “It is a good subject and was boldly conceived” wrote The Observer’s Alexander Bland. “But from the moment the curtain rose things went wrong. The setting was cumbersome but ineffective, with very unalarming projections; the score (Gerhard’s Collages) contributed little and the dance-style seemed half thought-out. Svetlana Beriosova and Donald MacLeary were the unhappy lovers in what must be counted a brave failure”.
“Some of the movement is beautiful”, conceded Peter Williams of Dance and Dancers. “Were it a purely abstract pas de deux it would be interesting. But the ballet is lumbered with a story... nothing really fitted together at any point.”
First performance: Opera House, Manchester 17 November 1970
Company: The Royal Ballet New Group
Cast: Svetlana Beriosova, Donald MacLeary
Music: Roberto Gerhard, Symphony No. 3 (Collages) for orchestra and tape
Design: Elisabeth Dalton
Benesh notation score: Monica Parker (1971). Working score (incomplete)