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The Judas Tree review – genius marred by misogyny

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Royal Opera House, London
Not even the Royal Ballet’s finest can make the brutal subject matter of the choreographer’s final work palatable

Kenneth MacMillan choreographed The Judas Tree for the Royal Ballet in 1992, and it has baffled and dismayed audiences ever since. As MacMillan told Jann Parry, at the time the Observer’s dance critic: “There are things in me that are untapped and have come out in this ballet that I find frightening. This is a dark one.”

Now 25 years old, the ballet has been revived as part of Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration. The curtain rises on a set designed by the Scottish artist Jock McFadyen. In the foreground, an east London building site, dereliction, and wrecked cars. In the background, the Canary Wharf tower. Several men enter. We understand them to be builders, although their muscle-mag appearance and narcissistic attitudes make them an unlikely labour force. Directed by their foreman (Thiago Soares), they carry in a young woman (Lauren Cuthbertson), whom they ritualistically awaken. She slinks ruttishly around the stage, lowering herself into crotchy pliés à la seconde, and whipping her legs suggestively skywards.

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