Kenneth MacMillan was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in December, 1929. As a young man he was accepted at the Sadler's Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet School), and in 1946 became a founding member of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, a new company formed by Ninette de Valois. MacMillan went on to dance with the Covent Garden company; in 1952 he returned to the Wells, where he found his true vocation as a choreographer.
In 1955, Danses Concertantes had its world premiere at the Wells and established MacMillan's career as a choreographer. After a subsequent creative decade (Diversions, The Rite of Spring), MacMillan's first full-length ballet, Romeo and Juliet, premiered at the Royal Opera House in 1965. MacMillan continued to make one-act ballets for the Royal Ballet, where, as a natural successor to Ashton, he was Artistic Director (1970-77), and Principal Choreographer (1977-92).
MacMillan also created ballets in Stuttgart (Song of the Earth and Requiem), served as director of ballet at the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, and was Artistic Associate of American Ballet Theatre (1984-89) and Houston Ballet (1989-92). He received his knighthood in 1983, which honored his contributions to British ballet. The Judas Tree won the 1992 Laurence Olivier Award for best new dance production.
MacMillan also directed and produced plays, including those by Strindberg and Ionesco. His last choreography was for the National Theatre's production of Carousel, for which he won a posthumous Tony Award on Broadway. In 1993 he was given a special Laurence Olivier Award for lifetime achievement, accepted by his daughter Charlotte.