In 1973 Kenneth MacMillan revisited Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sinswhich he had previously choreographed for Western Theatre Ballet in 1961. Again he chose Ian Spurling as his design collaborator. While the production concept was mostly unchanged, MacMillan was attracted by the challenge of scaling up the work for a larger company and choreographically the 1973 ballet differs markedly from its 1961 predecessor.
This time his Dancing Anna was Jennifer Penney, while the jazz singer Georgia Brown was her singing alter ego. Lynn Seymour was a burlesque queen attended by two male transvestites while Vergie Derman confidently headed a tap chorus line. As in 1961, Spurling used giant versions of children’s building blocks to spell out the names of the various sins.
Two critics, Peter Williams and Philip Hope-Wallace, were of an age to have seen Balanchine’s original staging in the 1930s with Lotte Lenya and Tilly Losch. To Hope-Wallace, writing for The Guardian, MacMillan’s reworking suffered in the comparison and lacked the hard bitter edge of the original. “It was not the period piece I believe it should be; the sense of evil was evoked without strong climax”.
But Peter Williams of Dance and Dancers thought that Seven Deadly Sinspresented intrinsic difficulties which were unsolved by Balanchine in 1933 and which might be equally intractable for anyone else. Specifically he thought that MacMillan’s problem was one of scale; Seven Deadly Sinswas wrong for Covent Garden and might instead have been admirably suited to the Royal Ballet’s New Group. Nonetheless Williams conceded that choreographically it had “little gems which combined with the visual excitements of Spurling’s designing contribute to something that seemed a nice blast of decadent draught, blowing through the usual establishment Opera House offerings.”
First performance: Covent Garden, London, 19 July 1973
Company: The Royal Ballet
Cast: Jennifer Penney, Georgia Brown
Music: Kurt Weill, The Seven Deadly Sins
Lyrics: Berthold Brecht
Design: Ian Spurling
Benesh notation score: Monica Parker (1973). Working score