BWW Review: MANON, Manchester Opera House
The latest installment from English National Ballet's series of "watch parties" is Kenneth MacMillan's emotionally demanding Manon. This filming shows a recent performance from late 2018 in Manchester with a stellar cast, most notably Alina Cojocaru in the title role, with excellent and memorable support from Jeffrey Cirio as Manon's brother Lescaut, and Katja Khaniukova as Lescaut's mistress.
Manon is a naive country girl, eager to enjoy the pleasures of corrupt 18th-century Paris. On arrival in the city, fresh from the convent, she falls for a charming but lacking in riches Des Grieux (a similarly green Joseph Caley). However, she is easily distracted by the lure of material items and is swayed by the fur coats and dazzling jewellery provided to her for becoming Monsieur GM's (James Streeter) mistress.
She is eventually reconciled with Des Grieux and the couple attempt to escape, but they are discovered by Mr GM, who orders Manon to be deported to Louisiana, which ultimately ends in tragedy.
Caley's Des Grieux has a warmth and purity to him, while Cojocaru expertly displays all the necessary nuance and conflict present in Manon, drawing upon her innocent charm and ability to sweetly manipulate in equal measure.
The famous bedroom pas de deux lacks a little passion and the giddy ecstasy one wants to see, but together Caley and Cojocaru are an engaging and watchable pair, and the chemistry intensifies as the action progresses. Later, in a solo, Caley is able to display his beautifully natural technique, finding arabesque lines easily and fluid, effortless turns. It's a shame that Manon is a ballet where the storytelling takes precedence.
Satisfying from the off is Jeffrey Cirio's morally questionable Lescaut, and his sensuous, alluring mistress (Katja Khaniukova). The finely tuned drunken pas de deux the pair perform together in the highlight of the debauched hotel scene from Act II. The erratic steps and partnering from Cirio are brilliantly timed and Khaniukova is always swift in regaining her composure for onlookers.
Mia Stensgaard's accessible set design and costumes come into their own in a complex tale such as Manon. Locations are easily signposted, and the colourful costumes worn by the harlots inside Madame's hotel are gaudy and bring vibrancy to the action. In Act III, Manon's arrival in New Orleans is depicted with the simple outline of a boat she arrives on; later, the climactic scenes from the Louisiana swamp are shrouded in smoke and the stage flooded with characters and memories from her past.
Cojocaru is deeply powerful in the final desperate moment as she clings to life, while Caley is a compassionate and supportive partner.
This is a fine and enjoyable recording from the ENB archive: the stage is well covered by the camera, with plenty of close-up moments, and little distraction is visible from either the fine ENB orchestra or the audience. The final two watch parties will cover Mikhail Fokin's La Sylphide and Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella. The latter was a hugely enjoyable hit at the Royal Albert Hall last summer, and it will be interesting to see how this translates on camera.
English National Ballet's Watch Parties continue every Wednesday at 7.30pm on YouTube. Performances are available for 48 hours.
Image: Laurent Liotardo