MacMillan magic: a fairy’s kiss with more bite than the usual balletic fare
Le Baiser de la Fée is a fairy’s kiss with more bite than the usual balletic fare. Choreographer Kenneth MacMillan was famously ‘sick to death of fairy-tales’, with ballet full to the brim of Sleeping Beauties, Cinderellas, and Swan Lakes, and often focused his works on visceral resonance rather than folkloric classicism. In his adaptation of Andersen’s The Ice Maiden, performed by Scottish Ballet on scintillatingly exciting form as part of the celebration on the 25th anniversary of his death, MacMillan makes the fairy’s kiss the mark of something much darker and more dangerous.
Balancing, like La Sylphide, on Romantic ballet’s obsession with the Other – symbolised by the difference between the familiar earthly fiancée and the otherworldly fairy – Le Baiser de la Fée stops short of romanticising it with its striking Stravinsky score and Scottish Ballet boldly billing it alongside another Stravinsky in much starker style, the raw and riotous The Rite of Spring. Stravinsky’s music is a tribute to the fairy’s kiss as much as it is to Tchaikovsky’s fairytale scores: it seduces and deceives; stuns and destroys, but also story-tells beautifully.
MacMillan’s choreography is both practical – lots of quick, musical, canon choreography for the countryside corps contrasted against the flitting ferocity of the fairies – and poetic, with an emotional power in the central opposition between the fairy, the fiancée, and the man cursed by one, coveted by the other. Newly-promoted principal Andrew Peasgood’s natural charm and enormous jump make him perfect for the earthly, energetic villager. With such unassuming naivety, he’s a congenial character, as confused as he is captivated by the fairy and playing it off in a way that invites compassion, and Peasgood’s litheness and beautiful lines belie his powerful command of MacMillan’s complex partnering, both in physicality and performance.
There’s a quaint chastity to the engaged couple, with Bethany Kingsley-Garner’s bright but blushing fiancée keeping her gaze away, often being abreast of rather than cheek-to-cheek with Peasgood, and beating her feet in coquettish excitement when they finally kiss. Constance Devernay’s fairy is a different creature: every stare, every step, seduces both the audience and the defenceless fiancé with its directness, leading their pas de deux with predatory desire and lacing her limbs around her prey in breathtaking, acrobatic lifts. The crescendo, in music and in movement, comes in a dramatic, almost slowed-down moment as she lowers herself onto him and leans in for the kill with a kiss.
Dressed in Gary Harris’s designs, gorgeously rustic then glacially unearthly, the corps de ballet frame the action with bounding boys and graceful girls at the village fête and wraithlike winds and vengeful fairies in the otherworldly realm, and Mia Thompson’s turn as the fortune-teller is a triumph of temptation as she twists herself into a pas de trois with the man and his fiancée. Le Baiser de la Fée is a ballet of MacMillan magic: it might be based on a fairytale, but this fairy’s kiss is bold, biting, and fatally beautiful.