BWW Reviews: American Ballet Theatre's MANON
American Ballet Theatre sent its audience on a thrill ride of joy, sorrow, and surprises in Manon. With Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in the lead roles, choreography and direction by Sir Kenneth MacMillian, and music from the opera of the same name by Jules Massenet, the audience was treated to a passion-filled evening underlined by grace, merriment, tragedy, and pure artistry.
Peter Farmer's set and costume design transported the audience from the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center to Old Paris, where the stark contrasts of grimy, ragged beggars intermingled with the brightly colored bourgeois. From there, a love story, caught in the grasp of money, power, and true devotion, unfolded. The music, orchestrated and arranged by Martin Yates, was vibrant and had perfectly accentuated every turn, leap, lift, and rond de jambe. Sir Kenneth MacMillian's multilayered and quite musical choreography set a busy, action-packed stage, where no corner was left standing still. Group sections showcased the versatility of the corps, especially the men, whose spins, twirls, and high-energy sequences highlighted their strength and talent.
The story followed Manon (Julie Kent), who must choose between her one true love Des Grieux (Roberto Bolle) or the rich suitor Monsieur G.M. (Roman Zhurbin), chosen by her brother Lescaut (Daniil Simkin). Ms. Kent captivated the audience the moment she stepped onto the stage, while Mr. Bolle was magnificent. His opening solo was sincere and gentle, turning with such precision and care as the lovesick Des Grieux. Together they possessed incredible chemistry. Their bodies interweaved in spontaneous synchronization, where swift movements of their limbs carved through the space and grandiose displays of affection complemented exquisite dancing. The two were such flirts; even in the tenderness of their most sensual moments, there was a loud sweetness seen throughout.
Interrupting the love affair was Monsieur G.M. The mood became much less free-spirited and more calculated, as if to count the coins that he had offered for her hand. The mischievous brother Lescaut added to the mix, acting as the cunning catalyst of this cat and mouse chase. With Manon taking up Monsieur G.M.'s offer, Des Grieux was left devastated, and with Mr. Bolle's impeccable lines and effortless grace, a beautiful tragedy was born.
The Hotel scene was filled with debauchery and enticing ladies who, like their male counterparts, showcased their strength as a corps. Also in the mix was a rousing duet between Mr. Simkin's Lescaut and Stella Abrera, who played his mistress. The drunken revelry of Lescaut and the sultry elegance of his mistress made for a most playful and comedic partnering that included some awkward yet entertaining lifts. This was no doubt to distract the audience from Des Grieux's despair, escalated by the taunting of Manon,, who not only teased her suitors but the audience as well.
In the end, true love won but not without a dramatic finish. And while happiness and bliss faded away, what remained true was one man's selfless devotion for a woman he had just met. Julie Kent's dynamic portrayal of the title role and Roberto Bolle's dedication to a complex male role made for an outstanding ballet, capturing the audience's heart.
Photo Credit: Rosalie O'Connor