Scottish choreographer. After studying at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School, he was director of the Royal Ballet 1970–77 and then principal choreographer 1977–92. He was also director of Berlin's German Opera ballet company 1966–69. A daring stylist, he often took risks with his choreography, expanding the ballet's vocabulary with his frequent use of historical sources, religious music, and occasional use of dialogue. His works include Romeo and Juliet (1965; filmed 1966) for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.
He is also renowned for his work with the Canadian dancer Lynn Seymour, including Le Baiser de la fée (1960) and The Invitation (1960). In Anastasia (1967), based on the case of the mental patient who claimed to be the Romanovs' missing heir, MacMillan contrasted different eras, musical styles, and incorporated newsreel footage. Other works include The Song of the Earth (1965), Elite Syncopations (1974), Mayerling (1978), Orpheus (1982), and The Prince of the Pagodas (1989) (originally choreographed by John Cranko in 1957 to music by Benjamin Britten).
MacMillan was born in Dunfermline, Scotland and suffered considerable hardship during his childhood. The family moved to Great Yarmouth, and MacMillan went to the grammar school there. He became interested in ballet on reading a dance magazine in the local public library and had the good fortune to find a teacher, Phyllis Adams, who took him on free of charge. At 16 he successfully auditioned for the Sadler's Wells Ballet School (now the Royal Ballet School) and in 1946, joined the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, which was just forming. The Sadler's Wells Ballet, the main company, had moved to Covent Garden and was to become the Royal Ballet. He danced for both companies from 1948. He began choreography in 1952 under Frederick Ashton. When Ashton became director of the Royal Ballet in 1963, MacMillan became resident choreographer.
Among his most memorable ballets are: Danses Concertantes (1955), Agon (1958), The Firebird (1960), and The Rite of Spring (1962), all to music by Igor Stravinsky; Laiderette (1954) to music by Frank Martin; Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (1965); a ballet to Mahler's Song of the Earth (1965), which he did for the Stuttgart company; Elite Syncopations (1974) to rage by Scott Joplin arranged by Richard Rodney Bennett; a new version of Benjamin Britten's The Prince of the Pagodas (1989); and Winter Dreams (1991) to music by Tchaikovsky. At the time of his death, he was working on a revival of his extraordinarily rich, full-length ballet, Mayerling, and choreography for the dances in a revival of Carousel, the musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, at the National Theatre in London. He received a knighthood in 1983.
He choreographed many ballets for companies in Europe and the USA, including Romeo and Juliet (1965), Anastasia (1967), ...