Laiderette (from the French ‘laideronette’, “little ugly one”) like Somnambulism was a workshop production for the Sadler’s Wells Choreographic Group. Its motifs of rejection and exclusion would be recurrent themes in MacMillan’s later work. Maryon Lane danced the lead role, a Pierrot-like heroine; a young girl whose admirer rejects her when her bald head is revealed.
The heroine is one of a troupe of itinerant clowns, who abandon her outside a great house where a masked ball is under way. A mask-seller places a mask over the sleeping girl’s face. One of the male guests discovers her and goes inside to tell the others. The host invites the mysterious stranger to join the party. They dance with abandon, but when the time for un-masking comes, her cap comes off as well and her baldness is revealed. Mocked and reviled, she is mournfully reclaimed by her clown family. They hold up a mirror and she sees herself as she truly is. She runs back up the steps to the house, where the host rejects her once again. He returns to the gaiety of the ball and Laiderette is left sobbing as the curtain falls.
The choreography for the heroine, danced by Maryon Lane, was intricate and strange. She moved at first with the gaucheness of a child, swivelling her knees sideways, turning her toes in and out, beating her flexed feet together then arching them in quick relevés on pointe. In her signature step, a flowing arabesque was distorted into an angular attitude position for the raised leg. Her arms were held behind her, hands clenched or splayed out in anguish. Lane later said that she recognised the character as a projection of MacMillan, scared that the world would reject him if people knew what he was really like.
The Frank Martin music, requiring solo harpsichord and harp, made the ballet expensive to perform and difficult to fit into a touring programme; and the Musicians’ Union would not agree to the use of recorded music. But de Valois was impressed enough to offer MacMillan his first full commission for Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, Danses Concertantes (1955). Marie Rambert acquired Laiderette for Ballet Rambert, which gave it a full stage production at Sadler’s Wells in July 1955, with designs by Kenneth Rowell. It remained in Rambert’s repertory until 1967.
‘Here was a work of near-genius’, declared Peter Williams in Dance and Dancers. ‘If this and his first work, Somnambulism, are fair examples of what we can expect from MacMillan, we have a choreographer of major dimensions’.