Kenneth MacMillan first choreographed Le Baiser de la fée in 1960; twenty six years later he revisited the ballet, making changes for a new generation of dancers. The first performance of the revised work was at a gala for the Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund along with two works from his years in Berlin, Concerto and Anastasia. The performance was dedicated to the memory of Barry Kay, who had recently died of complications caused by AIDS and who had designed Anastasia along with seven other of MacMillan’s works.
To Mary Clarke of The Guardian who had seen the original ballet in 1960 it seemed that MacMillan had “retained much of what was written for Lynn Seymour – those swirling, circular lifts, those limpid descents when the foot melts into the ground above a bent knee, the sorrow of her exit after desertion. And how marvellous to see MacMillan writing again in a purely classical style.” John Percival of The Timesalso noted the close resemblances to the 1960 version. “I cannot understand why the earlier version was unsuccessful. It had only 24 performances between 1960 and 1965, yet it was blessed with superb performances and one of the most beautiful decors ever created for the Royal Ballet, a set of marvellous abstract landscapes by Kenneth Rowell.” In fact, Kenneth Rowell’s designs, which had been destroyed, were themselves the reason why the earlier production was set aside. They were so complex that there were few other ballets with which for technical reasons it could be programmed.
In his earlier production, MacMillan’s preoccupation was with the betrayed Bride, the figure in the ballet left truly alone (“she’s the one who is lost”) after the fairy entices her husband away. But in the 1986 version, MacMillan aligned himself with Stravinsky’s original intent; that the ballet is an allegory, the Fairy’s fatal kiss marking out the artist from other mortals.
There was little warmth for Martin Sutherland’s designs. In The Observer Jann Parry dismissed the set as ‘unimaginative’. “He succeeds in evoking neither the Fairy’s ‘Land beyond Time and Place’, nor the village from which she claims her initially reluctant hostage.”
By common consent Le Baiser de la fée is Kenneth MacMillan at his most exquisitely classical. But the production did not last long in repertory. Maria Almeida, who danced the Bride, has coached Isabel McMeekan in The Bride’s Solo; the video is on this site’s Media area.
A new production is to be performed by Scottish Ballet in 2017 and designed by Gary Harris.
First performance: Covent Garden, London, 8 May 1986
Company: The Royal Ballet
Cast: Fiona Chadwick, Sandra Conley, Jonathan Cope, Maria Almeida
Music: Igor Stravinsky, Le Baiser de la fée
Design: Martin Sutherland
2017 Design: Gary Harris
Benesh notation score: Vergie Derman (1986)