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Song of the Earth

Kenneth MacMillan’s powerful exploration in ballet of love, loss and renewal is set to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

Most recent performance

There are currently no scheduled performances of Song of the Earth. It was last on stage 24 October—1 November 2017.


MacMillan succinctly summarized his ballet: ‘A man and a woman; death takes the man; they both return to her and at the end of the ballet, we find that in death there is the promise of renewal.’


Kenneth MacMillan first heard Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in 1958. He immediately fell in love with Mahler’s elegiac score and determined to set it for ballet. He created his Song of the Earth in 1965 for Stuttgart Ballet, on the invitation of his friend John Cranko. The ballet was instantly acclaimed and The Royal Ballet took the piece into its repertory only six months after the Stuttgart premiere.

MacMillan introduced a narrative thread to the piece’s six movements, drawing on imagery from Hans Bethge’s translation of the six Tang dynasty-era poems used by Mahler. Marcia Haydée created the role of the woman, a figure of loneliness isolated from the movements of the corps de ballet around her. In MacMillan’s hands Death becomes a gentle, ever-present companion. Earthbound, non-classical movements morph seamlessly into modernist curves in a work of breathtaking beauty and power.

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