The Scandal At Mayerling’s first act opens with a glittering ballroom scene, all shimmering chandeliers, elegant ballgowns, sparkling tiaras and ornate military costumes.
It’s almost the sort of chocolate box-pretty you would expect from Scottish Ballet’s bravura festive outings, like The Nutcracker.
But Mayerling is no fairy tale. Far from it – the clue being the sombre lonely burial scene in a rainswept churchyard that is the show’s prologue.
This ballet is a dark journey though madness, abuse, privilege, despair, desire and death played out in embers of a fading empire – with stunning choreography and music to match those big themes.
It’s all the more remarkable for being a true story, based on the tragic events surrounding Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Scottish Ballet’s The Scandal At Mayerling has a strong flavour
His debauched life of mistresses, drugs and alcohol ended when he and his teenage mistress, Mary Vetsera, were found dead at a hunting lodge in Mayerling in a murder suicide.
The melodrama of this dysfunctional royal family plays out against a backdrop of political unrest and rising nationalism. Gosh, doesn’t that sound familiar.
Given the subject matter, Scottish Ballet’s Mayerling – a re-imagining of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s iconic 1978 work – has a very strong flavour, but is none the worse for it.
MacMillan’s choreography is simply timeless – fluid, elegant, bold, physical and very demanding on the dancers.
None more so than on Prince Rudolf, danced here by Ryoichi Hirano, who is almost never off stage, with nine intense and dramatic duets with his wife, mother and various mistresses. Little wonder he ends up drenched in sweat even before the short first act is over.
Edge-of-the-seat stuff in a compelling, but uncomfortable watch
Ryoichi delivers a compelling performance and not just in his muscular dance where he is lifting, moving and catching his partners in displays of breathtaking trust between the performers.
But he also captures the essence of a dissolute, entitled but troubled prince, descending into addiction and abuse of himself and those around him.
Ryoichi’s scene with his new bride, Princess Stephanie, a superb Bethany Kingsley-Garner, is edge-of-the-seat stuff, as it descends into horror and assault. It is a compelling, but uncomfortable watch.
However, Ryoichi is at his best when paired with Constance Devernay as his mistress Mary. Their scenes are intense, intimate and destructive, played out with exacting physicality, some of which is heartstoppingly intricate, with lifts and drops that are gasp-out-loud at times.
Eyebrow-raising raunchiness in scene set in a brothel
Mayerling is also blessed with a marvellous ensemble which comes to life in a low life tavern, all high energy full company pieces with a fringe of eyebrow-raising raunchiness as befits a scene set in a brothel.
They are not the only ones working overtime. Franz Liszt’s lush but relentless score is just as demanding on the Scottish Ballet Orchestra as MacMillan’s choreography is on the dancers. They deliver it flawlessly under the baton of conductor Jean-Claude Picard.
As Mayerling works its way towards its inevitable climax – an ever-present skull and pistol leave little doubt where this is going – it lives up to its billing as a rollercoaster of a drama and a feast of some of the most compelling work Scottish Ballet has to offer.
It finishes where it started, in that rainswept churchyard and lonely burial, only now we know who is in the coffin.
Fittingly dramatic end to The Scandal At Mayerling at His Majesty’s
It was a fittingly dramatic end that left the audience slightly stunned, hesitating before bursting into the applause The Scandal At Mayerling deserves.
Scottish Ballet’s The Scandal At Mayerling runs at His Majesty’s Theatre until Saturday May 7. For more information and tickets go to aberdeenperformingarts.com
You might also like…
- Scottish Ballet’s rollercoaster of scandal, desire and destruction heads for His Majesty’s
- REVIEW: Audience over-the-moon and rainbow as the Junior AYMT put on a colourful spectacle at the Tivoli
- ‘It’s weird that some people don’t remember life before Alan Partridge’: Steve Coogan on new tour Stratagem, Scotland and playing Savile