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on 28 May 2017
Most people will purchase this for Elite Syncopations and it is worth the entrance fee for this alone. Colourful, full of humour, sensational dancing with a jazz band on stage.
The Judas Tree is and always has been more controversial. Mainly because of the described subject matter, rather than influence of the dancing. Preconditioned by the story line, it can be a daunting first watch, but in time the performance overcomes the subject matter. Faced with some trepidation, I told visitors that it was about a group of young street dancers rehearsing and that was accepted without challenge.
Concerto by contrast is 'comfortable', but a pleasant enough watch.
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on 15 August 2017
petty good
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on 2 October 2010
This is by far the most interesting and enjoyable of the recent crop of ballet dvds, a Triple Bill of works choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan, all three very different indeed. There is good camerawork and editing for these three fast-moving ballets, filmed at Covent Garden, and this is the order in which they were presented in the theatre:

"Concerto" is a plotless piece to sparkling Shostakovitch music, performed on a bare stage in golden light. The central pas de deux features the superb Marianela Nunez, (who brings uniquely touching qualities to everything she does), partnered by Rupert Pennefather: this unforgettable pas de deux is 'out of this world' and one of the most beautiful things Macmillan created. All the dancers are seen to advantage in this sharp, positive and stimulating work, and this glowing ballet is stunning in blu-ray!

"The Judas Tree" is probably Macmillan's most disturbing and challenging piece: a one-act ballet which includes gang-rape, betrayal and murder, it also has the overtones of a religious allegory. Dance couldn't get darker, this is not a ballet to suit every viewer (and this must be the first ballet-dvd to have a Content Warning on the box!), but the dramatic choreography is astonishing. The cast, in particular Leanne Benjamin, perform this brave and intensely thought-provoking work marvellously. It greatly repays watching several times.

Rounding off the programme is Macmillan's fabulous "Elite Syncopations", an all-out send-up, it's an on-stage party danced to jazzy ragtime, requiring a variety of skills from the whole cast. The dancers wear zany bodystockings plus crazy hats, and there is an edge to this colourful entertainment: it's saucy and subversive ! The wicked 'Tall Girl/Short Boy' skit, MUST be the most hilarious turn currently on any ballet stage anywhere.
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on 23 November 2010
If you are a lover of Ballet then this is a wonderful Triple Bill. It would be worth buying for the first ballet alone. Elite Syncopations is one of the most delightful,and happy ballets ever coreographed. I have watched it several times and all the way through have a smile on my face and even laugh out loud on occasions. The dancing is superb and the Scott Joplin music exquisitely played.
The second ballet is very dark and quite difficult to watch because of the story and I would strongly recommend that it not be shown to young children. But the dancing again is superb.
The third ballet is Concerto, with no story, just pure dance, which again is a delight and beautifully danced. The Royal Ballet and Corps de Ballet have outsone themselves and I urge all lovers of dance to buy this DVD.
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on 6 March 2013
I don't usually like modern dance but this was a spectacular collection. I especially appreciated Elite Syncopations both for dance techique and for the colourful production..
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on 28 December 2010
Three half hour works by Kenneth MacMillan, which run the gauntlet from funny, through grim, to relaxed and beautiful.
Elite Syncopations was, we are told in the brief introduction, created as an antidote to his darker, tragic works, and it succeeds very well. A cheery, lightweight piece, beautifully performed and characterised. I particularly liked Iohna Loots as the nice girl, and Sarah Lamb as the sexy starlet displays all her strengths. The duet between Paul Kay as the short boy, and Laura McCullock as his too tall partner is wonderfully funny. (Apologies for the misspelt names, by the way!) The design is witty and colourful, the rag time music performed by an onstage band with verve and enjoyment.

The Judas Tree is a very dark work, which I personally feel goes too far for public performance. Magnificently danced, at one level it is clear that the woman (Leanne Benjamin) has provoked the lusts of the men until she is gang raped, which also leads to her murder (and resurrection), the murder of a friend and a suicide. Outside that, however, it is intrigingly unclear. Is the woman real? Or does she represent, for example, lust? Is the piece about the need to control male sexuality, in other words, a new take on the old sex equals death theme? And exactly who has betrayed exactly what? Dark designs also intrigue, and the music, which I believe was specially composed, complements and supports the action. I shall be watching the piece again, trying to work out what it is really about, and also for the excellent performances, with various dancers exploring the dark side of masculinity, but not for evening relaxation, which is how I tend to use ballet DVDs, even the classic tragedies.

Concerto I found very beautiful. The coreography is wonderfully fitted to the (great)music, and there is no plot to distract from the sound and movement. The design is simple and calm, elegant and abstract, part of the work which is not always the case with some of the classics. I was slightly uncertain about the quality of Helen Chadwick as the solo girl, but I'm no expert on the technicalities of dance, and I often find a performance by an unfamiliar artist grows on me. Otherwise, it's gorgeous.

I thought this was a very well balanced triple bill from a top ballet company, great music and which I'd recommend to any adult (not children, not with the Judas Tree on the disc) who wants to stretch their knowledge of ballet beyond the classics.
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on 3 June 2017
Some great Macmillan choreography.
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This disc contains three short ballets by MacMillan and show very different sides to his thinking. The Elite Syncopations and the Concerto ballets are very easy to enjoy at most levels, all of which are conventionally 'enjoyable'. 'Enjoyable' strictly meaning the giving and sharing of joy. However, the Judas Tree explores such dark areas of human behaviour that it is doubtful that much `enjoyment' as defined will or can be derived from such a dark scenario for many viewers even though they may be able to appreciate its technical creation and performance.

To consider the Judas Tree first: This ballet from 1992 and MacMillan's last, essentially explores the circumstances leading up to the gang rape of a lone woman by 13 men. The setting is in a rather forbiddingly desolate industrial landscape (building site?) and one could immediately wonder why any woman would place herself in such a setting. There are biblical inferences whereby the utterly unpleasant foreman is named Judas, his friend is named Jesus and the girl seems to be able to cheat death as Lazarus.

What is not in doubt is the skill that has gone into the creation and performance of this unsavoury story. However, one is left wondering what men or women would derive much enjoyment or pleasure from watching such a portrayal of group violation of a woman. We all know that such things can and do occur but is it a suitable artistic subject? Choosing to watch, let alone to 'enjoy' this ballet will inevitably be a very personal choice.

The Concerto ballet from 1966 ends this program and is an altogether easier experience to share. The music is a well performed, but very slow version, of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto 2. In order for the ballet to be danceable the tempi have been markedly reduced - fine for the dancers but it robs the music of the intended vitality.

The ballet is an abstract creation with groups of dancers creating shapes and movements very much reminiscent of the work of George Balanchine such as can be seen in his `Jewels' ballet. This is most attractive to watch and the lack of narrative is of no matter. Another major aspect of the ballet is the use of colour found in both the costuming and the very minimalist but effective backdrop. This is also reminiscent of George Balanchine who was a major influence at that time in these ways.

The first item to be seen is the 1974 Elite Syncopations. This is a ballet set to Joplin's ragtime with a small group of musicians on stage and is a totally fun piece with good humour very much to the fore. This is a very colourful production with lots a imaginative costumes to match the music.

The scenario is that of a dance event with different couples taking it in turns to do their number on the dance floor. This enables Macmillan to explore all sorts of characterisations from the self-admiring, through the amusing to the straight-forward attractive choreography. There is something for everyone here and different viewers will have different favourite sections. The unifying response should be of general delight though.

The camera work is fully involving and the imaging is sharp and there is not a moment of movement blur despite fast actions in subdued lighting. The sound is full-ranging and is presented in surround 5.1 and stereo.

This disc is clearly very appealing for two of the ballets that are otherwise unobtainable. The third ballet, the Judas Tree, is a more contentious issue as described above and will inevitably have far less general appeal. The three ballets taken together thus provide a significant overview of MacMillan's varied work.

Such is the consistent excellence of the dancing throughout the disc that I would still suggest it is a disc very well worthwhile considering for purchase despite the obvious reservations expressed above concerning the artistic or emotional content of the Judas Tree.
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on 28 May 2012
As usual the Royal Ballet were superb.

Elite Syncopations is a lovely piece, two moments which stood out to me particularly were Iohna Loots and Liam Scarlett as the young, romantic duo and Steven McRae's assured solo. That's not to say the other dancers were not equally as good but those two are my favourite moments. The costumes were wonderful and even on video a sense of light heartedness came across clearly.

The Judas Tree is much more difficult, both to watch and to describe. At first glance it seems clear cut but there is more substance to it when thought about in more depth. It won't be to everyone's tastes but I would recommend watching it at least once. Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson showed why they are such a good partnership and Carlos Acosta was equally as good.

Concerto is the last and my favourite of three. The music is wonderful, I'm not so keen on the costumes but they suit the ballet and the sets so a blind eye can be turned. The central pas de deux with Rupert Pennefather and Marianela Nunez is beautiful and Steven McRae and Yuhui Choe are, as always, brilliant. Helen Crawford, though not as well-known as the other four, held her own with them easily in my eyes.

The additional interviews were interesting and informative and definitely worth a watch in the case of the Judas Tree.
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on 6 July 2014
MacMillan’s vision has been vital in shaping The Royal Ballet’s style and repertory, and what better way to appreciate his art than with this rare chance to experience three contrasting works in a single performance. Abstract, dramatic, humorous – this programme gives a wonderfully varied introduction not just to MacMillan’s work but to the beauty and dramatic power of ballet itself. Concerto, to Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, contrasts moments of exuberance and elegiac reflection. The Judas Tree places a single woman among 13 men to enact a harrowing event that is recognizably contemporary but with biblical overtones. Elite Syncopations completes the programme with a sparkling evocation of a dance hall that brings ragtime rhythms to the dance, and a ragtime band to the stage.
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