This was the second time that Kenneth MacMillan had choreographed the Venusberg ballet in Act One of Tannhaüser (the first was in 1955). Here, Venus was a night club hostess in slinky leather and sequins, who oversaw a celestial floor show choreographed by MacMillan. The production made some edits in the music; there was a cut from the overture into the Venusberg music, which allowed MacMillan’s choreography to begin seamlessly; the absence of the bacchanal also meant that the ballet was relatively short. The four dancers came from London Contemporary Dance Theatre.
Elijah Moshinsky, the producer, located this Tannhaüser at the edge of the world; the action taking place on a round platform in the midst of a blackness into which the heroine, Elisabeth, departed for her death and Venus for her eclipse.
Tom Sutcliffe, writing for The Guardian, thought the floorshow “sexy in the abstract, cleverly turned, but not stirring.” For Jann Parry of The Observer, the ballet looked “like a visual of Purgatory. The four dancers who depict the pleasures of the flesh are deathly pale, subhuman creatures, unadorned except for a dark stream down their spines. They copulate aridly in unison, twisting their supple bodies into almost abstract shapes. Small wonder that Tannhaüser, voyeur rather than participant, wants to leave.”
First performance: Covent Garden, London, 25 September 1984
Company: The Royal Opera
Dancers: Christopher Bannerman, Linda Gibbs, Ross McKim, Kate Harrison
Music: Richard Wagner
Design: Yolanda Sonnabend
Producer: Elijah Moshinsky