Sunday, 6 May 2018

'Manon' at the Royal Opera House

'Manon' is one of the great romantic modern ballets by Kenneth MacMillan and has been in the Royal Ballet's repertoire for a long time (I saw the 274th performance according to the cast list). The tale is worthy and sad - there are no happy endings in this ballet. But there is some great dancing, particularly the group dances and the various pas de deux of the lovers.

'Manon' is a simple tale of greed, lust and power and, of course, love. Isn't every ballet? Our heroine is Manon, a young girl who travels to Paris with her guardian to meet her brother and change coaches to take her to a convent. By the time she appears we've already met her brother, Lescaut, who pimps his mistress and is friends with the Beggar Chief and other thieves. He welcomes the grand folks from Paris in the hopes of getting money out of them. When his sister arrives, beautiful and young, he realises he can get money for her virtue and he deals with both her guardian and the rich Monsieur G.M. While the deals are being made, Manon meets Des Grieux, a handsome young student and they fall in love and flee back to his apartment where they dance their love. Unfortunately, they're followed by Lescaut and Monsieur G.M. who then woos her with furs and a diamond necklace and she succumbs. Her lover is, of course, distraught.

Some time later the scene changes to a society party with courtesans and lusty old men, young energetic men showing off and all gentlemen handing in their swords to avoid any trouble. Lescaut and Des Grieux arrive in their finery and Lescaut is already drunk and gives the best drunk dancing I've ever seen as he and his mistress cavort across the stage. Then Monsieur and Manon arrive and she's bedecked in all her finery but, inside, she's still the little girl who fell in love and she and Des Grieux plan to run away together.  Monsieur returns and swords are drawn as the couple try to escape and Lescaut help them. They make it back to Des Grief's apartment, followed by Monsieur and the local police - he shoots and kills Lescaut and prosecutes Manon as a prostitute.

Manon is deported to a penal colony in the colonies in America and Des Grieux follows to protect her. She is still a beauty and the local Gaoler takes a fancy to his new charge and rapes her at which point Des Grieux finally grows a pair and stabs him to death. The lovers escape into the swamps around the colony where Manon finally dies and we leave Des Grieux to his mourning. Clap! Clap! Clap!

So there you have it kids, don't give up your virtue for worldly goods because you'll probably die in a swamp. And you don't want that.

It's a fab ballet and there's some astonishing dancing. The best solo dances all seem to go to that rascal Lescaut in the first act, leaping all over the place, and he gets the opportunity to do great dancing and falling over in the drunken party scene. Our lovers of Manon and Des Grieux dance some lovely and tender pas de deux, sharing moments of passion and love. One segment I really enjoyed was when the ladies arrived in the colony dressed in rags and hair cut scandalously short and their ensemble dance with their hands behind their backs one moment and covering their heads in shame the next before passing out with the heat and their weariness. I was most impressed with that simple and heart-felt story telling, the restrained movements and innate sadness. It was most fab indeed.

Our dancers were Akane Takada as Manon, Alexander Campbell as Des Grieux, James Hay as the very bouncy Lescaut, and Thomas Whitehead as the nasty Monsieur G.M. Thank you for the magic.

No comments: