When MacMillan became director of the ballet at the Berlin Opera House, he made two new works for his first programme. One was Concerto, the other Valses Nobles et Sentimentales with The Invitation completing the evening).

Three years after Symphony, MacMillan turned again to Shostakovich, this time to the exuberant second piano concerto (which he had written for his son Maxim’s 19th birthday). Like SymphonyConcerto is plotless. There is a different pair of soloists for each of the three movements (for the premiere the third movement had to be hastily rechoreographed for a solo woman, Silvia Kesselheim – her partner broke his foot days beforehand). In the background are three subsidiary couples and a corps of sixteen women and eight men.

Concerto was danced on a bright stage, (darkening only for the andante) and against a plain backdrop; Jürgen Rose’s costumes, plain tights and short tunics were from a palette of olive and ochre. The opening allegro began with broad sweeping unison movements for Carli and Kapuste. Horst Koegler, who reviewed the opening night for Dance and Dancers, was struck by the latter. “Berlin’s miracle boy...spinning like mad, enjoying himself in exhibiting his high spirited dancing – youthful energy unbound......a marvellous performance.”

For the central andante MacMillan created a languorous pas de deux for Lynn Seymour and Rudolf Holz. In her autobiography Seymour remembers this as “a romantic impressionistic sequence which resulted from Kenneth slyly observing me working alone, an hour on pointe before evening rehearsals. He transported curving movements of concentrated simplicity – an arm slowly dropping, a leg stretching sensuously – into a joyous pas de deux.”

For Koegler, this movement was the most effective of the three. “It starts with both partners heading for each other from different sides of the stage. When they have met, Seymour begins with a very simple port de bras exercise, beautifully presented in all its variations. Seymour lends it an almost dreamlike quality, languorous, yearning and yet relaxed, and having made her piece with herself. Holz has not more to do than to be her partner – a function he fills with quiet distinction. This is a piece of pure choreographic poetry”.

The final movement, in Koegler’s description, was “all dazzling manèges, a whizzing pool of spinning bodies, dashing diagonals – with Silvia Kesslheim darting through it like one of those long-legged Balanchine amazons in search of her partner who somehow got lost.” (When, eventuallyConcerto, reached the Royal Ballet, MacMillan did not restore the missing male part).

Alexander Bland of The Observer, also reported on MacMillan’s Berlin opening, on “a lavish concern in a fine modern building....and a very adequate company.” Bland was impressed by the pas de deux for Seymour and Holz. OfConcerto taken in the round, Bland wrote, “Apart from minor innovations it is pure classicism....and (is) continually pleasing. Thus ended what has been hailed locally as the birth of a new age in Berlin ballet.“

  • First performance: Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 30 November 1966

  • Company: Ballet of the Deutsche Oper

  • Cast: Didi Carli, Falco Kapuste, Lynn Seymour, Rudolf Holz, Silvia Kesselheim

  • Music: Shostakovich, Piano Concert No. 2

  • Design: Jürgen Rose, later by Deborah MacMillan

  • Benesh notation score: Faith Worth (1967) Working score