Kenneth MacMillan devised The Four Seasons as a showcase for the Royal Ballet’s strength in depth from corps to soloists and principals; just two months previously the corps had received the Evening Standard ballet award for outstanding contribution to dance in 1974.
MacMillan, advised by the critic Andrew Porter, chose music from three Verdi operas, principally the Sicilian Vespers ballet divertissement and similarly balletic sections from I Lombardi and Don Carlos. Along with MacMillan’s recent choice of composer in Manon, Massenet, his resort to Verdi seemed to mark MacMillan’s turn to an older musical tradition (a contrast to the Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich of some of his earlier ballets).
The ballet opened with series of ensemble dances; intricate footwork on pointe for women with soaring beating jumps for the men, danced according to Mary Clarke in Dancing Times, “so impeccably that it would be cruel to the dancers (although perhaps kinder to their feet?) to cut it short.” Then came a series of classical variations, the Winter pas de trois for Donald MacLeary, Marguerite Porter and Vergie Derman; Spring pas de quatre for Lesley Collier, Michael Coleman, David Ashmole and Wayne Eagling); a languorous Summer pas de deux for Monica Mason and David Wall; finally, three gypsies, Anthony Dowell, Jennifer Penney and Wayne Sleep in Autumn.
Mary Clarke was full of praise for MacMillan’s “imagination and invention”. Peter Williams of Dance and Dancers thought it “good to see so many dancers so well used and displayed. With much pruning and by possibly using just a plain cyclorama, The Four Seasons could become the kind of ‘defilé’ ballet that the repertory has long needed.
The original design for The Four Seasons (1975) by Peter Rice seemed vaguely north Italian meets Bavaria and were too overpowering and specific. The dance moved more freely in the more unlocalised designs of Deborah Williams when the ballet was redesigned in 1980.