The making of Miss Julie was an unhappy experience for Kenneth MacMillan in Stuttgart. It led to a breach in his relationship with John Cranko and MacMillan did not make another work for Stuttgart Ballet until after Cranko’s death. During Miss Julie’s gestation there were tensions in the company and the eventual ballet was not considered a success, even by critics usually warm to MacMillan’s work.
Strindberg’s original play powerfully portrays the downfall of its aristocratic anti-heroine because of her infatuation with a servant. There is a rich web of tension; the power of class and the countervailing power of sexual attraction. But the story of Miss Julie seemed to Clement Crisp an overly obvious target, “which so suggested ‘a MacMillan ballet’ in its exploration of sexual identity as to be almost self-parodistic. It had all the necessary components of passion and social tension yet did not seem to challenge him.”
From the outset there were tensions. Stuttgart’s dancers were unhappy with MacMillan’s insistence on casting Frank Frey from the Deutsche Oper Ballet as Jean, the valet. MacMillan prized highly Frey’s muscularity and dramatic stage presence. Frey had made a powerful impression in Cain and Abel; MacMillan had already refused to replace Frei with Rudolf Nureyev in a planned Royal Ballet production of that ballet, on which rock the plans perished.
In Stuttgart, however, MacMillan was determined to cast Frei as a powerful foil to Haydée’s Miss Julie and John Cranko, Stuttgart’s director, relented. In the event, neither made a decisive impact and for a combination of reasons, an incomplete conception on MacMillan’s part coupled with company tensions (Cranko’s interference with costumes; inadequate time spent on the set), the production failed and only had a handful of performances.