Mayerling; a ‘tour de force’ for the male dancer.

This ballet by Kenneth Macmillan (1978) to music by Franz Liszt is directly historical and political. One can watch it as a violent Romantic ballet . But it is a true story of events which led to  Cataclyism. Instability of personality often may affect families, but not usually nations.


 One forgets the dark side of of 19th century Romanticism: its searches for meaning and identity: its swings of extreme emotions:  its black brooding. Not only individuals, but nations were caught up in these swirls. The murder on January 30,1889, of his seventeen year old mistress by Crown Prince Rudolph, and then his suicide at the scene of the murder (if indeed that is what happened), left Franz Joseph, the Habsburg Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, without an heir to the throne. The throne then passed to his brother, whose son and heir  was Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Their assassination in Sarajevo in June 1914 by an Yugoslav nationalist  occasioned the onset of World War I. Even today in Budapest, Sophie is remembered.

In the ballet, one sees Hungarian nationalists trying to persuade Rudolph of the threat of a looming Germany under the rising Bismarck.

Mayerling Ed Watson cCM

 Edward Watson of the Royal Ballet has described this as his most difficult role to achieve. The violence and the waves of emotions are captured by breathtaking and sustained lifts which sometimes end with a terrifying heave or throw. The pas de deux work seems more in the air than on the ground. The sense of the woman being tossed, abused, caressed and hit is staggering..The sadistic link between love and terror is present. To achieve this requires endurance and strength on the part of the male dancer. If one lift is to have three phases, there will have to be constant shifts in where the weight and hands are placed. It is important that the couple are well matched in size. Preferably the ballerina should be smaller in proportion to the male in order to fly through the air.

It is a ‘tour de force’ for the male dancer, even though attention is often focused on the female dancer in what I would call ‘ an aerial ballet’.

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