In May 1957 American Ballet Theatre presented fifteen new ballets by young choreographers over four consecutive Mondays in the off-Broadway Phoenix Theater. Dance writers were invited to view the ballets as ‘laboratory productions’; most were presented without sets and with simple costumes.
MacMillan’s Journey featured four principals, three soloists and an ensemble of three women and twelve men. Its subject was death, from the first premonition of it to the final judgement, and was in four sections – Premonitions, Three Messengers of Death, Journey and Judgement. The men, used in the manner of a Greek chorus, come somersaulting from the wings at the outset.
Arthur Todd, writing for Dance and Dancers, remarked on a work “replete with some of the most inventive and unusual dance movements seen in a ballet in several seasons in New York.” In September 1958, ABT included Journey in a programme at the Metropolitan Opera House. John Martin of The New York Times was considerably more impressed than he had been with Winter’s Eve, MacMillan’s previous commission for the company. “It is certainly not one for the balletomanes, but it is an original and a stunning work.”
Martin continued: “The choreography is a marvel of invention, the kind of intuitive invention that is generally associated with the modern dance rather than the ballet. The massed chorus is used with power and variety, and the individual figure of Miss Kaye stands out in high relief against it. In the second section she unwittingly goes out jazzing, as it were with three red-clad angels of death and only at the end of the scene does she realise who they are and what has happened. It is a remarkably macabre and beautifully conceived scene and it is remarkably danced.”
First performed: 6 May 1957
Company: American Ballet Theatre
Music: Béla Bartók
Cast: Nora Kaye, John Kriza, Erik Bruhn, Scott Douglas