Royal Ballet does ragtime with MacMillan’s ‘Elite Syncopations’

The Royal Ballet’s online stream this Friday is a performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s delightful ballet, Elite Syncopations. Set to music by Scott Joplin, it’s one of the most joyful pieces in the Company’s repertoire.

MacMillan wrote Elite Syncopations in 1974 – a ballet premiered only seven months after Manon – and something he’d planned even before the revival of interest in Joplin’s music which was used as the title track for George Roy Hill’s film, The Entertainer.

There’s no story to the ballet – it’s just a riot of colour, fun, fabulously gaudy costumes, ragtime music and MacMillan’s very distinctive choreography, giving the dancers the perfect excuse to really let their hair down and have some fun. Designs are by Ian Spurling.

The stage is bare of a set, but the twelve musicians, led by a pianist, are seated on a rostrum behind the dancers, and dressed in 1900s-style costumes. The entire cast is onstage as well – watching the proceedings when they’re not dancing themselves. As the programme notes say, “The setting might be a competition in a louche dancehall in the Mississipi Delta at the turn of the last century, where the ballet’s characters flirt, dance and vie with each other for the limelight”.

Elite Syncopations was first performed at Covent Garden on 7th October 1974, with a cast which included some of The Royal Ballets’ finest dancers at that time – Monica Mason, Vergie Derman, Wayne Sleep, Michael Coleman, Merle Park and Donald MacLeary. Noel Goodwin – writing for Dance and Dancers – said: “Much of my enjoyment came from watching some of the Royal Ballet’s best and most distinctive principals displaying new facets of their artistry in the choreography MacMillan devised for them.”

The performance that we see on Friday was recorded in October 2020 during The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage presentation, marking the first time that the Company had performed on stage together in seven months.

The Royal Ballet dancing Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations can be viewed online as of 7.00 pm on Friday, 12th March. For more detail, and to buy tickets, visit The Royal Ballet website.

Information sourced from:
The Royal Ballet programme notes
Kenneth MacMillan

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