Paul McCartney’s Ballet, Ocean’s Kingdon, Premiered in New York
Paul McCartney‘s ballet, Ocean’s Kingdom, opened in New York last Thursday to not very enthusiastic reviews. It was staged by the New York City Ballet and directed by Peter Martins. McCartney’s daughter, Stella, who is a fashion designer, created the costumes. Some of the critiques indicated that the story was too simple, the music sounded like an old Hollywood film score, and “the performance was ballet for beginners,” meaning, I presume that the choreography was not ground-breaking or original enough.
I haven’t seen the ballet or heard the music (the album of the music is coming out in a week or so), but some of the review comments got me thinking. Well, lets see, the ballet is about the daughter of the ocean king falling in love with the brother of the earth king, very fairytale-like stuff. The music is not too complex or new sounding. The dancing was not too difficult or avant-garde.
I don’t know, but I wonder whether Ocean’s Kingdom could better be seen as a ballet primarily for children and young people. I don’t think Sir Paul was necessarily trying to compete with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake or Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, but maybe the goal was to create something in a lighter vein for simple entertainment. But the fact that this was a high-profile premier with a world-class ballet company with a well-known director might suggest otherwise. It did set the bar pretty high for what might be expected.
Having one of world’s best known pop music icons involved certainly did create a lot of buzz for the company and that’s fine, it’s showbiz. Paul McCartney, as a songwriter and performer was, and is, one of the greatest, and his achievements and importance are undeniable. But as a composer of symphonic music, he’s still developing his abilities in an area of music he obviously loves. His interests and involvements in the arts are wide-ranging and deep, but given how much he still performs live (and sounding great, I must add), it’s a wonder he has the time to write as much music as he does. He’s a natural-born performer and artist.
McCartney’s situation reminds me a little of George Gershwin in the 1920′s. Gershwin was a master of popular song, but he got a lot of flack from the critics when he crossed over into the realm of “serious” music with Rhapsody in Blue and later ending with Porgy and Bess. I’m not saying their situations are exactly parallel, for Gershwin did begin studying orchestral writing earlier in his life, even asking Ravel for lessons. We know Sir Paul can write great melodies; maybe when he slows down from performing live he can spend more time studying orchestral writing in-depth, if that’s what he wants to do.
In the meantime, when the hoopla about Ocean’s Kingdom dies down, if it hasn’t already, McCartney and the New York City Ballet Company can let the work be performed by amateur groups or in art schools such as Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, if it’s deemed to have enough merit. For my part, I like fairy tales, old Hollywood film scores, and dancing that’s not too avant-garde.