Watching Mayerling

28 Jul

It was by pure chance that I came across Mayerling, the piece by Kenneth MacMillan and performed by the Royal Ballet. If I’d known the plot I’d never have bought it, or watched it. But as it is it’s an interesting study in human potential for depravation, and absolutely beautiful choreography with two of the (not main) dancers.

Mayerling is based on the Mayerling incident during which Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary supposedly committed suicide with his mistress the Baroness Mary Vetsera. The incident was hushed up at the time, and Rudolf’s grieved parents (he was their only son) had to request a special dispensation from the pope on the grounds of insanity, so that he could be interred in the Imperial Crypt. There has been speculation on it not being a murder, but a political assassination, due to the fact that the Crown Prince had no sympathies for Germany at a time when it was advisable to do so. The ballet, Mayerling, is very liberal with what little facts we do know, and possibly disrespectful to the dead. Royal families have a lot to endure. The House of Habsburg, however, ended quickly after Rudolf’s death. So perhaps they may glean some small comfort from the fact that the ballet brought some attention back to their story (or not). We certainly none of us believe in everything a play tells us.

In itself the work is intensely emotional, and if you have keener sensibilities, may be somewhat painful to watch. If you have an anarchic bent and find aesthetic enjoyment in the lavishly de-structured, then Mayerling would be a ballet for you!

The scenes I particularly enjoyed were the scenes where Rudolf attempted a flirtation with his sister-in-law, Princess Louise, at his wedding. I had not become acquainted with the story background at this point and simply found Sarah Wildor absolutely captivating. I was disappointed when she was not featured prominently in the other scenes. This was part of the reason she left the Royal Ballet in 2001. If I could find this scene and show it to you you’ll understand how enthralling it is. It was a very short scene, and Wildor looked piquant, curious, reserved and faultless. By contrast, Viviana Durante (playing the Baroness Mary Vetsera) appeared both girlish and reckless. Her fascination with Rudolf’s fascination was well-played, but hardly poignant. It was perhaps very much in character for what was written, for she was only 18 when she died, and he 31. I guess there are no perfect worlds, even in ballet.

The other scene I enjoyed was with Nicola Tranah playing the Empress Elisabeth in her chamber with her son, and later on for the short while she was vexed with her husband’s adultery yet joyous in her own sexual liberation. She doesn’t make complete sense here for I would figure, if she acknowledged her husband’s mistress so publicly, and was happy in the attentions of other men, why she should still appear to be bothered. If the play were reality, Prince Rudolf would have become dysfunctional if only on that cause. I have reason to assume most men unable to escape unscathed from the failed marriage of their parents.

Tranah made a stunning figure reading on the chaise longue. Perfect. Pointed. Toes!

I do not understand why Rudolf’s ex-mistress the Countess Marie Larisch would both introduce Vetsera to him and encourage their relationship. What would have motivated her to do so? The only idea I have is that perhaps Larisch found Vetsera like herself, for when together they danced in the same manner, and she hoped to use Vetsera to satisfy her urge to be close to the prince, who was starting to push her away. Vetsera is an entirely different character from Larisch (in this ballet, of course, we shall not refer to the real historical figures here), however, for her interactions with Rudolf show her to be more than a girl delighted with the prospect of a lover – she can be daringly psychotic. Larisch, however, can only attempt to use all the conventional manners a desperate woman may employ to retrieve her lover’s heart – and fail spectacularly. She does not dance like Vetsera when they are not together, and we might guess that dancing in concord is only the facet of themselves they are triggered to present when interacting. This reminds me, sadly, of the possibility that however in-sync I may find my interaction with another individual, I cannot safely assume that that person is akin to me in most aspects of character, morality…etc.

To me, it still doesn’t make sense why Larisch would encourage their relationship. A visceral sense of power for being the one who ushered in the next mistress? Of what worth is power when your feelings are trampled?

I have not studied dance forms, but I presume to surmise that Mayerling is not entirely a modern ballet. Classical moves are used in rather more unconventional ways. However, I found it a much lovelier piece of work than Angelin Preljocaj’s Blanche Neige, which is modern ballet but which I found a bit too ‘unstylized’ for my tastes. Perhaps there is still part of the fairytale element dwelling in me, for I would rather my ballets suggest the act rather than bring porn to the stage.

A summary of the various acts for Mayerling can be found here: http://www.theballetbag.com/2009/06/22/mayerling/
or
http://www.roh.org.uk/discover/ballet/mayerling.aspx

Besides analyzing the plot I would like to bring some of my personal feelings to bear, if I may.

I felt intensely upset after watching this ballet – and resigned. There was rarely a point of sincere affection within it. Rudolf was designed to chase tails as much as they were available. And his affection for his new mistress could be interpreted as the fascination that two equally sick minds may have for each other.

After all, he did shoot her, or we guess that he did behind the screen. How else? A woman does not kill herself upon finding love. They are two completely different passions. If she were mad I suppose there would be the possibility… but how much can normal passions in people differ, even in the failed logic of the mad?

I am tired of seeing the ugliness that is possible in this world. I wonder how much it could change me, and how much I can realize this before it’s too late. I understand that I must know – but knowing and having respite in other areas, or not having much hope for respite, are two different things. I must rely on myself to strengthen my better feelings.

 

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