Arthurian Legend in
Ballet cycle in two parts
Music: John McCabe
Choreography: David Bintley
Sets: Peter J. Davison
Costumes: Jasper Conran
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Part 1 sponsored (2000) by BRB Trust's Millennium Club,
with additional support from Forward and the Millennium Festival; parts 1 and 2
supported by the John Feeney Charitable Trust; part 2 sponsored (2001) by
Powergen UK plc
Part 1 was given its premiere on 25 January 2000.
Part 2: premiere May 2001, Sadler's Wells; re-opens the Birmingham Hippodrome
Approximate performance lengths
Part 1: 2 hours 20 minutes (including one interval)
Part 2: 2 hours 20 minutes (including one interval)
The Roman Empire's rule over central Britain has ended and there is
civil war as the British kings vie for supreme power. Meanwhile the country is
open to attack from all corners.
One Briton, Uther Pendragon, proves himself the strongest of his race and
assumes the title of High King. This claim is supported by the wizard Merlin who
forsees that the Pendragon's dynasty will defeat the invading Saxons. During a
feast to celebrate the Britons alliance, the Pendragon is entranced by Igraine,
the beautiful wife of Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Her husband does not miss the
desire in the Pendragon's eyes and he rises to leave. The Pendragon forbids
this, but Gorlois defies him and walks out, taking his wife with him.
Gorlois is forced to defend his act of treason against
the High King. He leaves Igraine and his three daughters in Tintagel castle and
sets out to fight. But Merlin is on the opposite side and he uses his magic so
the Pendragon can enter the castle and seduce Igraine. His powerful spell makes
the Pendragon look like Igraine's husband. The price Merlin demands is the child
that will be conceived that night.
Only Igraine's daughter Morgan has the gift to see
through the Pendragon's disguise. But by the time she raises the alert it is too
late. The doors of the castle crash open and her father's body is carried in.
The Pendragon is victorious.
The Pendragon takes all Gorlois' possessions, including
his wife and children, as his own. When Igraine gives birth to their son he is
exultant until Merlin reminds him of his promise. The Pendragon tries to resist.
Merlin uses his powers to take the child and the Pendragon's sword of office,
Merlin's magic plunges Excalibur into a giant stone so
that only the true king will be able to pull it out. Secretly, he has the child
christened Arthur. He places Arthur in the care of Sir Ector where he is raised
with Ector's son Kay. Many years later, Arthur accompanies Kay to London for his
first tournament. Arthur is acting as Kay's squire. Just before the competition
they realise that Kay's sword is still at their lodgings. Arthur sets off to
fetch it. On his way he passes the sword set in the stone and, curiously, he
pulls it out. When he carries it back to Kay, uproar breaks out. Merlin appears
and all acknowledge Arthur as king.
Arthur has successfully led the Britons in many battles against the Saxons. He
is saddened by the waste of life on both sides but knows no other way to ensure
the peace he longs for in his kingdom of Camelot.
On the eve of his coronation Arthur and his knights,
among them his great friend, Lancelot, gather to celebrate. Merlin appears with
Igraine and reveals Arthur's true parentage. At the end of the feast Arthur's
attention is caught by a beautiful unknown woman. They spend the night together
but in the morning he discovers she is his half sister, Morgan.
Five years later, Arthur sends Lancelot to woo the
beautiful Guinevere to be his queen. Lancelot's own heart is captured, but his
oath of chivalry and his loyalty to his friend and king prevent him from acting
on his own feelings. Guinevere has also obviously fallen in love with him, but
she too is bound by convention. When Arthur arrives she has no choice but to
On the eve of his marriage, Arthur tells Merlin of his
night with Morgan and of the child that was born on May Day the following year.
Merlin has a vision that this boy will destroy Camelot. He orders Arthur to have
his son killed. Arthur prepares for the wedding, torn by guilt about his and
Morgan's son. Since Morgan has concealed the child's identity, all boys born on
May Day must die.
Meanwhile, Lancelot keeps vigil in a chapel, confused by
love and loyalty. Guinevere breaks down as she is getting ready for her wedding.
Lancelot appears at her side and they declare their love.
As Arthur and Guinevere swear their vows, screams of
dying children are heard in the distance.
Morgan and her son Mordred escape the slaughter. She gives the child to her
sister Margause to raise as her own with her three sons Gawain, Agravain and
Years pass. Arthur travels north to visit his sisters.
He invites the four young men to join the brotherhood of the Round Table and
takes his sisters Margause and Morgan to Camelot.
Lancelot's and Guinevere's love has become all
consuming. It is well known among the court and this knowledge is beginning to
damage the brotherhood. But Arthur's deep love for both his wife and his best
friend prevents him from acting.
Merlin discovers that Morgan, far from being the
Christian nun she pretends to be, is a follower of the Goddess. Begging Merlin
to teach her his arts, she embarks on a seduction of the great magician.
Guinevere hosts a feast. Morgan has enchanted an apple,
intending to poison the queen. Unknowingly, Guinevere offers it to Gareth,
Margause's youngest son. He dies in agony. Gawain believes the queen guilty of
his brother's murder and demands justice. Lancelot defends Guinevere and defeats
In the meantime, Morgan has learnt all she can from
Merlin; she now literally possesses him and he is no longer of any use to her.
With Mordred's help she kills him and they hide the body.
Arthur is troubled by Merlin's disappearance. He is without counsel and friends
and the fellowship of the Round Table is breaking apart.
A hunt has been organised. Agravain and Mordred intend
to use this opportunity to prove Guinevere's infidelity.
Lancelot and Guinevere meet in a garden. They are
trapped when the hunt is steered towards them. A fight ensues in which Lancelot
kills Agravain. Guinevere is captured but Lancelot escapes.
Guinevere is tried and found guilty of adultery; shorn
of her hair, she is sent to a nunnery. Gawain insists on avenging his brother's
death. Arthur and his knights depart for Lancelot's castle, Joyous Garde,
leaving Mordred as Regent. Morgan's powerful hold over her son seems to have
slackened and she is starting to lose control over the events she has unleashed.
Joyous Garde is besieged. Lancelot and Gawain fight in
single combat. Gawain is defeated, but Lancelot will not kill him. He tears off
his armour and renounces his knighthood.
Arthur and his companions set off for Camelot. Gawain,
mortally wounded in his fight with Lancelot, dies during the journey. At Camelot
they find that Mordred has usurped the crown and is about to marry Guinevere.
Arthur manages to rescue Guinevere; with the last
handful of loyal knights they flee Camelot, which is now controlled by Mordred
and his followers.
The Last Battle. The flower of knighthood lie slain;
only three figures stand among the carnage. In a final confrontation, Arthur
kills Mordred, but not before his son also deals him a mortal blow. A penitent
Morgan takes her brother's body for burial at Avalon.
Britain is once again in turmoil. In a field hospital a
nun lies dying; she is Guinevere. Lancelot, who has taken holy orders, arrives.
Together they recall the glories of Camelot. He begs a last kiss but she dies in
his arms before his wish can be granted.