A Different Drummer

Published on 17th September 2009

By the end of his lifetime, Kenneth MacMillan was internationally accepted as one of the great choreographers of the twentieth century. Today his ballets are in constant demand by world-famous companies, and dancers aspire to take on leading roles in his best-known works, Romeo and Juliet, Manon and Mayerling. But MacMillan’s most successful ballets reveal glimpses of a deeply troubled mind, an outsider at odds both with the institutions in which he worked and with their expectations of what ballet should be.

A real-life Billy Elliot from a Scottish working-class family, MacMillan demonstrated a prodigious talent for dancing from an early age. However, while a war-time evacuee, MacMillan’s life was changed forever by the sudden death of his mother, the first and most significant in a series of losses he was to suffer throughout his turbulent life. Ballet was to provide the escape route he needed from the desolation at home, and, despite his father’s disapproval, the young Macmillan soon secured a place at De Valois’s ballet school at Sadler’s Wells in London.
One of the greatest paradoxes in MacMillan’s life was that, having fought so hard to perform, he was to be crippled by stage-fright during the height of his professional career as a dancer. This left him with only one option – to choreograph. As a choreographer he created ballets that defied all conventions and became renowned for challenging his audiences. The often hostile criticism he received fanned his deep-seated anxieties but MacMillan fought on, pushing the boundaries further and further.
International acclaim awaited him as he became Artistic Director of first the Berlin Ballet and then the Royal Ballet; yet despite this MacMillan still considered himself to be an outsider. On a personal level he found unexpected happiness with his wife and daughter in the later stages of his life, making it all the more tragic when he died suddenly during a performance of one of his own ballets in 1992.
This first complete biography of Kenneth MacMillan reveals a complex artist who fiercly guarded his own privacy, while his ballets communicated his darkest and most intimate thoughts.
A DIFFERENT DRUMMER was published on 17th September 2009 by Faber.