The Royal Ballet’s "Manon"
And why, the viewer laments, must the girl always die at the end? In this case, Manon is being punished for her naive attempts to navigate through the men who buy and sell her, as she realizes over time that love does not conquer all. Manon is a dramatic, even at times melodramatic, ballet enjoying the big-canvas luxury of opulent sets by Nicholas Georgiadis (designer for many years to the great Nureyev), a score from Jules Massanet based on the opera of the same name, and the innovative choreography of the Scottish genius Kenneth MacMillan. Add to this the talent, discipline and graceful arms of Britain’s Royal Ballet dancers - one of the companies who set the standards in the world of dance - and you have an emotional, epic performance.
Danced by Tamara Rojo with exquisite delicacy and high-strung feelings, Manon stops in Paris on her way from her convent school to see her rather heartless brother Lescaut. Astonished by her maturing charms, Lescaut shows her around the Inn where she attracts the attention of the wealthy Monsieur G.M. While the Old Gentleman who had been wetting his lips over her in the coach vies with Monsieur G.M. for the brother’s permission to possess her as a courtesan, Manon falls in love with the handsome, poor student Des Grieux.
Carlos Acosta plays Des Grieux with a large, puppy-like approach, riding the tragic plot-line with controlled exuberance and despair. His dances of seduction combine passion with movements so slow that he seems suspended in the air during his jumps. His faithful desire for the tiny Rojo is a weak counter to the entreaties of the other men, with presents of jewels and furs.
In each pas de deux for the lovers that MacMillan has choreographed, there is an originality of movement that is filled out with both the chemistry and competence of the two dancers. Rojo makes the journey from blushing schoolgirl to sought-after courtesan and down into the hell of abuse and death, as she suffers the revenge of the coldly elegant Monsieur G.M. when she runs away with Des Grieux.
Passed like an amusing parcel among the men - not the least her greedy brother Lescaut - it is literally her physical pliability which allows her to occasionally squirm out of their grasp. An animated and energetic performer, Jose Martin brings a comic element to his Lescaut, not the least in an amazing drunken dance with his vivacious Mistress, danced by Sarah Lamb, a hometown girl who was thrilled to be presented with a bouquet in honor of her return during the ovations. Combining lifts with falls, this duet of inebriation kept the audience gasping and laughing as the two challenge the boundaries of balance.
There was a sense of occasion at the Wang - as there must be for a company like the Royal Ballet and a choreographer like MacMillan. Although it was may not have been an historic epiphany, it was certainly memorable, and the Celebrity Series is to be congratulated once again. The production emphasizes erotic flirtation, but does not avoid raw sex - both exploitative and consensual. The corps of dancers maintains the sense of action in every corner of the stage. The standing ovation lasted through a long set of well-deserved bows.
June 15-17 | The Wang Theatre
Friday | June 16 | 8pm*
Saturday | June 17 | 2pm & 8pm
For more information: www.celebritiesseries.org
Portrait Photographer: Kevin Cox