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Kenneth MacMillan was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1929. His strength of purpose can be traced back to the very beginning of his career when he read an advertisement announcing that scholarships for boys were available at the Sadler’s Wells (now Royal) Ballet School. He was determined to make his way there and he did. Sir Kenneth completed his dance training at the Sadler’s Wells School and in 1946 became a founding member of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, a new company formed by Ninette de Valois. He gained his first dance experience at the Wells and then moved to Covent Garden. In 1952, he returned to the Wells and there found his true vocation as a choreographer. At Sadler’s Wells a gifted group of young dancers was in the process of forming a Choreographic Group to give performances of new works. The first performance by the Group was on February 1, 1953 and the hit of the evening was MacMillan’s first ballet, Somnambulism, to music by Stan Kenton.
The following year he staged a story ballet, Laiderette, and Dame Ninette decided to commission an entirely new work from MacMillan: Danses Concertantes. This work immediately established MacMillan as a choreographer of note.
In 1966, MacMillan received an invitation to direct the ballet company at the Deutsche Oper in West Berlin. Encouraged to accept by Dame Ninette, he took over the company and staged his own productions of The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. He also created the one-act ballet Anastasia which was subsequently to become the third act of his full-length Anastasia.
Sir Kenneth had proved himself as the natural successor to Ashton as Director of The Royal Ballet, a post he assumed (at first in association with John Field) at the beginning of the 1970-71 season. Sir Kenneth continued to choreograph and in 1974 created both Manon (his third full-length work) and Elite Syncopations. In 1976, MacMillan made Requiem for the Stuttgart Ballet and in 1978 he created for that company My Brother, My Sisters. Mayerling was first produced at Covent Garden on February 14, 1978. As in so many ballets, he took a compassionate view of doomed characters, seeking to show why tragedy overtakes them. Mayerling had a triumph at its American premiere in Los Angeles in 1978 and was the subject of a London Weekend Television film which won the 1978 music category of the prestigious Prix Italia — the first ballet ever to do so.
More recent works have been La Fin du Jour, which draws inspiration from the style of the 1930’s and the fashionable way of life shattered by World War II, and Gloria, a lament and a thanksgiving for the generation that perished in World War I. MacMillan created his fifth full-evening ballet, Isadora, in 1981. It received its world premiere at Covent Garden on April 30, 1981.
Sir Kenneth made his debut as a director of plays when he staged Ionesco’s The Chairs and The Lesson at the New Inn, Ealing. He also produced Strindberg’s Dance of Death at the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre.
He received his knighthood in the 1983 Birthday Honours, and resided in London with his wife, Deborah and daughter Charlotte. Sir Kenneth died in London in October, 1992 at the age of 62. At the time of his death he was choreographing a revival of the musical Carousel.
Sir Kenneth was an Artistic Associate of American Ballet Theatre from 1984-1989.