Ballet Central

A witch, The Bird Woman, snares young children and transforms them into birds and it is only when two true lovers reveal themselves that the spell can be broken.

John Cranko suggested the theme for MacMillan's third ballet, House of Birds, based on the Grimm Brother's macabre fairy tale, Jorinda and Joringel. 

While the turning of mortals into birds is a familiar pastime of ballet sorcerers, House of Birds was one of only three MacMillan ballets which drew inspiration from fairy tales (the other two are Le Baiser de la fée and The Prince of the Pagodas).

Arnold Haskell found in the first night performance 'something of the thrill of a Diaghileff première' while critic Clive Barnes noted its 'brilliance and its oddness', which would 'assuredly earn MacMillan a one way ticket to Parnassus or Bedlam.' 

For Clive Barnes the pas de deux between the couple (complicated lifts foreshadowing future MacMillan couplings) inevitably echoed that in Fokine's The Firebird.

John Lanchbery suggested to MacMillan that he use music by the Catalan composer Federico Mompou. "I was mad about Mompou, who was little known in England at the time. I bought everything of his I could find and put the score together. Kenneth came and I played it through, and we did it there and then. Just like that."

The first performance was on the 26 May 1955 by the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet with an opening night cast of Maryon Lane, David Poole and Doreen Tempest. The ballet bares great significance to Central's legacy. When it was revived in 1963 Central's founder director Christopher Gable recreated the leading male role. It inspired what inevitably followed to be Gable's ethos as a performer and choreographer, of bringing theatricality to classical ballets.

Ballet Central is honoured to present an excerpt from House of Birds and are thankful to Lady MacMillan and the MacMillan estate for the opportunity to bring the piece to life once again.

Choreographer - Kenneth MacMillan

Kenneth MacMillan was one of the leading choreographers of his generation. His close association with The Royal Ballet began when he joined Sadler's Wells School (now The Royal Ballet School) aged 15. He was Director of the Company 1970-77 and Principal Choreographer 1977-92. His ballets are distinguished by their penetrating psychological insight and expressive use of classical language. These qualities are demonstrated in his many works for the Company, which include Romeo and Juliet, Gloria, Manon, Mayerling and Requiem.

MacMillan was born in Dunfermline and discovered ballet while evacuated in Rutford during World War II. Aged 15 he forged a letter from his father to Ninette de Valois requesting an audition. He joined Sadler's Wells School on a full scholarship, later entering the Company. He created his first major work, Danses concertantes, in 1955 and went on to become one of the world's leading choreographers. Positions away from the Company included Director of Deutsche Oper Ballet Berlin (1966-9) and Associate Director of American Ballet Theatre (1984-90). He continued to create masterpieces throughout his life, including The Prince of the Pagodas (1989) and his last work The Judas Tree in 1992. He died backstage at the Royal Opera House during a revival of Mayerling.

Some of MacMillan's most significant muses included Lynn Seymour, Christopher Gable, Monica Mason, Marcia Haydée, David Wall, Darcey Bussell and Irek Mukhamedov.

Follow csbschool on Twitter Follow csbschool on Facebook CSB YouTube CSB Instagram

We use cookies to help make our website better.

At the moment, your preferences prevent us from using cookies. OK otherwise Find out more.

How we use cookies

Google Analytics is a marketing tool that allows us to see how our site is used, for example how many visitors we get and which pages are viewed most. This information is anonymous but requires cookies to track your actions on our website.

You can find out more about cookies at

If you'd prefer us not to use cookies, please click here, or if you don't mind us using cookies please click here.