Different Drummer: The Life of Kenneth MacMillan by Jann Parry - review by Patrick O’Connor

Patrick O’Connor

The Power of Dance

Different Drummer: The Life of Kenneth MacMillan


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When Kenneth MacMillan was fourteen, as he related forty years later, ‘I woke up one day … to find that everything had crystallised. I had to be a ballet dancer.’ He screwed up his courage and went to see the local dancing teacher in Great Yarmouth. He tapped on her door and blurted out, ‘I want to be a ballet dancer. I want to get a scholarship to the Sadler’s Wells School.’ The kindly Miss Adams looked at him and said, ‘Oh, do you really? In that case you’d better come in.’ When, a few months later, he went to audition for Ninette de Valois in London, she was too busy to spare any extra time, so she just instructed him to join in the company’s regular morning barre practice. MacMillan was placed between Margot Fonteyn and Beryl Grey. De Valois wrote to MacMillan’s teacher, ‘I was extremely impressed with the boy from every angle.’ 

This was during the winter of 1944–5; once the war was over, De Valois arranged the scholarship for him, and within months he was dancing on stage. Once in the main company, he found that Frederick Ashton paid special attention to him during rehearsals, ‘He’d ask me, “What

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