Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet Winter Dreams a distillation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, began life as a pas de deux for a gala celebrating the ninetieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. He created it on Darcey Bussell, then the Royal Ballet’s youngest principal, and Irek Mukhamedov, the former Bolshoi star, who was making his debut as a member of the Royal Ballet. It was an immediate success and twelve days later The Times confirmed what was obvious to all who saw it; that the pas de deux would be the nucleus of a full-length MacMillan ballet to be performed early in 1991.

In the meantime it took its place in a mixed bill at Covent Garden along with David Bintley’s The Planets and William Tuckett’s Enclosure. Mary Clarke, writing for The Guardianenthused over “choreography and dancing of real distinction”. Jann Parry, The Observer’s critic, applauded “the balletomanes’ treat – a three hanky farewell of a Russian sailor to his wife.”

Parry continued; “I say wife because the relationship between them seems so deep and enduring. Mukhamedov is a passionate dancer and Bussell responds to him and the music with a fearless candour. It is a lovely pas de deux in which the partners are equals; and it makes us long for the complete Winter Dreams which MacMillan is preparing for next season.”

  • First performance: London Palladium, 19 July 1990

  • Cast: Darcey Bussell, Irek Mukhamedov

  • Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Romance in F major op.51

  • Design: Peter Farmer