The ballet Mayerling, singular, is the reason why I love ballet, whole; this is what opened my eyes to how astonishingly, viscerally moving an art form it is. I saw the Royal Ballet’s production a few years back (post about it here) and - I spent hours leaning against the railing of the lower slips trying to see, with a crick in my neck and slowly losing the feeling in my right arm, and none of that mattered. It was gorgeous and transporting and heartbreaking and I am still so sad it was the only time I ever got to see Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg dance.
So when I saw the RB were putting it on again, obviously I couldn’t miss the chance to see my favourite ballet, but at the same time I almost didn’t want to overwrite the memories of the previous production. This time wasn’t as good as last, but so interesting in its interpretation of the characters. At first I was surprised at how almost graceless? clumsy? Thiago Soares seemed to be as Crown Prince Rudolf, then it clicked. The point of his performance is that Rudolf is naive, awkward, a child; pressured from all sides by Hungarian separatists and the expectations of the court, only wanting his mother to break with rigid formality and show him the love he craves. (there’s such absolute yearning in the scene where he comes to her bedroom.) And if she won’t love him, he’ll find comfort and oblivion elsewhere.
It gives a very Oedipal feel to the whole thing; the big pas-de-deux that conclude each act all seem to come after yet another rejection by his mother. (and yet in the arms of her lover Bay Middleton, the Empress opens like a flower - they have this wonderfully fluid, sensuous pas-de-deux, one you wouldn’t believe this stiff, proper woman was capable of, and when Rudolf comes across them, his anger and shame and pain and jealousy, almost, are palpable.)
It also casts a whole new light on his relationship with Marie Larisch - what was the age gap between them historically? Here she’s very much the sophisticated older woman, whose love is both tender and controlling, and who puts Mary Vetsera in his path as a way of continuing to influence him even after he rejects her.
I have to talk about Lauren Cuthbertson’s confident, self-possessed Mary, who loves Rudolf desperately, who shares and enables his obsession with death, and who has him completely in her thrall. (that Act 2 pdd - Rudolf lights up the minute she fires the gun, is absolutely willingly worshipfully hers.) It’s so different from the usual girlish interpretation of the role, but I absolutely loved it and want to see Lauren Cuthbertson dance all the things.
What I think this production lacks, compared to the previous one, is a certain sexuality - the pas-de-deux in Acts 1 and 2 should leave you unable to breathe, and that wasn’t the case here. (though I really liked the wedding night one - Stephanie is so innocent, so uncomplicatedly romantic, and it’s heartbreaking. There’s a moment where Rudolf pins her beneath him; she quivers with fear and he realises and hates himself for it, hates himself for trying to frighten her because he’s the one who’s hurting. When he finally takes her to bed, it’s so sad, so very much about getting what’s expected over with rather than desire.) However, I’m still so glad to have seen it, not least because it does such great things with all the female roles.