MacMillan created Valse Excentrique for a gala given in aid of Hungarian refugees in December 1956. Earlier that year Soviet troops had invaded Hungary and suppressed all public opposition to the country’s hardline Communist regime. Three thousand people died, while two hundred thousand Hungarians fled to the West.
Valse was the single newly-created work performed at the Gala. MacMillan’s chosen music was the Ibert Divertimento written for Eugène Labiche’s play, The Italian Straw Hat. In a slow-motion pas de trois for three Victorian bathers, a girl (Anya Linden) was gently passed between two suitors (Brian Shaw and Alexander Grant, both in Edwardian bathing suits and handlebar moustaches). For Dance and Dancers, Valse had “all the imagination and invention we associate with its choreographer” with Linden producing “a surprising vein of zany comedy as the young lady in not too much distress.” The costumes were suggested by Alexander Grant. They were originally designed for Ashton’s beach ballet Les Sirènes (1946) in which Grant was cast as one of a group of children. The piece was exuberantly received (“louder laughter than has ever been lavished on the Crazy Gang”, according to the 1958 Ballet Review).
Although intended as no more than a pièce d’occasion, Valse Excentrique did have an afterlife. In 1958 MacMillan restaged it for Western Theatre Ballet with designs by Ian Spurling (it formed part of the programme for WTB’s American tour in 1963). It continued to be danced at fund-raising galas into the 1970s (“part of an underground Royal Ballet repertory seen only in this kind of programme”, according to The Times in 1969). It was briefly in the repertory of the Royal Ballet New Group in 1972—’73 clocking up seventeen performances.
First performed: December 10 December 1956
Gala, Sadler's Wells Theatre
Music: Jacques Ibert
Cast: Alexander Grant, Anya Linden, Brian Shaw