“Kenneth MacMillan has owed us a light-hearted ballet for years”, began Clement Crisp’s review of Kenneth MacMillan’s La Création du Monde. It is a whimsical version of the Creation story in the form of a zany children’s game.
Darius Milhaud’s score, much influenced by black music and jazz, was originally written for the Ballet Suédois, for which Jean Borlin had staged his version in 1924. In its day it was described as a ballet Nègre, because of its supposed sources in the African imagination of the beginnings of life. In 1931 Ninette de Valois had choreographed a distinctly solemn staging for the Camargo Society, which was later performed by the Vic-Wells (now Royal) Ballet.
Solemnity was the last thing, however, on MacMillan’s mind. His Création was the Royal Ballet’s first experiment in pop art. For early peoples, he substitutes children at play on whom the curtain rises as they empty out the contents of a dressing-up box. Then a decrepit “Great Deity” with an enormous top hat is wheeled on-stage in the delivery basket of a butcher-boy’s bicycle. The Great Deity, in Union Jack-bedecked white tights is introduced, rather like a conjuror at a party. The games begin.
“For my next creation”, flashes a message on a screen and the animals enter. Then the screen signals; “And now INSTANT people”. Enter Adam and Eve (Richard Farley and Doreen Wells). Their fig leaves are discarded for all-over white tights. Eve’s are stencilled with the words ‘bird’, ‘floosie’, ‘doll’, ‘fluff’ ‘chick’, ‘filly’ ‘bint’, ‘frail’; Adam’s – less controversially - with ‘bloke’, ‘fellow’, ‘beau’, ‘butch’, ‘homme’.
Then, as Clive Barnes recorded for Dance and Dancers, followed a pas de deux for Adam and Eve. “This involves eccentricities, including much laying on of innocent hands on innocent anatomies in a mildly exploratory mood. Of course the answer to the rude question ‘has no-one ever told them?’ is no. Paradise is broken by the entrance of the Serpent (Elizabeth Anderton – “I was a teenage snake”) who comes on jauntily sucking her thumb. The Deity tries to fight her off while Adam and Eve resume their supernal fumblings. The Apple enters (a dancer in a green balloon --‘Granny’, ‘apple’, ‘fresh today’) and the Serpent jives with him. She tempts Adam and Eve to take a bite from the Apple (while the subtitles joyfully proclaim ‘I was seduced by Granny Smith’) and they nibble the unfortunate Apple down to the core.”
The ballet ends with Adam and Eve’s pas de deux becoming more enthusiastically sexual. God interrupts their revels and chases them away with a whip. As God is left disconsolately alone, the children mock him and he is ferried away on the butcher’s bike.
“This is a ballet full of ideas”, wrote Clement Crisp in The Financial Times, “of gimmicks taken from ‘Pop’ art but made completely balletic and the tricks and comic devices never obscure the basic strength of the dancing.” “Certainly it is all very jolly”, wrote The Guardian’s critic James Kennedy, “and iconoclastic and cynical as well. For if this new version can be said to have anything like a message, that message can only be that the ‘Great Deity’ made a pretty mess of his creation.”
MacMillan invited James Goddard, the designer, to work on the ballet, following their previous collaboration on MacMillan’s television ballet Dark Descent. “The decor is perfectly in key with the work”, wrote Clement Crisp. Richard Buckle dissented: “It is high time Pop art reached ballet, but James Goddard is rather a confused and wishy-washy kind of Pop artist to represent it.” Peter Williams, writing for Dance and Dancers, praised MacMillan’s intent in choosing Goddard, but cavilled at the result. “In an art so composite as ballet with at least three creators doing their nut, there is really only room for one comedian who should, by rights, be the choreographer.”
Richard Buckle’s review for The Sunday Times ended: “God creates man in his own image, then man creates God in his own image. Man mocks God and sends him packing: and God starts all over again. But who created God in the first place? I see no reason why these sublime considerations should not be treated in a Pop and jazzy way.”