BWW Review: MANON, Royal Opera House
The Royal Ballet's 19/20 season is opened in confident style with Kenneth MacMillan's 1974 production of Manon. It features a cast who perform it with renewed vigour and attack, easing through the testing emotional and physical demands of the story with style and flair.
Manon's dramatic story is not amongst the most commonly seen in the classical repertoire, however, it has been recently performed by English National Ballet at the beginning of the year and by the Royal themselves just two seasons ago. Ticket sales (by ROH standards) for this opening night at the have been comparatively slow and it is hard to fathom any reason other than it being so recently programmed. Nonetheless, it's a shame for a cast of such quality and emotional maturity.
Manon is an initially innocent girl, who succumbs to the pleasures of corrupt 18th-century Paris. She quickly falls for Des Grieux, a humble poet who she's instantly charmed by. However, against a backdrop of riches and opulent parties, she is later swayed by the allure of fur coats and expensive jewellery lavished upon her by the wealthy Monsieur G.M., who she's introduced to by her brother, Lescaut.
Sarah Lamb's Manon is rich in detail. On her first encounter with Des Grieux (Vadim Muntagirov), she is delicate and tender and they are both delightfully infatuated. Muntagirov's strength in partnering has never looked better in the flighty lifts and turns. This is before the audience can sit back and drink in the dreamy bedroom pas de deux, which is danced with compelling spontaneity - the scene ending with Lamb flinging herself back onto the bed, her body weary with joy.
Later, on becoming further acquainted with Monsieur G.M.'s (Christopher Saunders) corrupt but wealthy world, Manon is then cavalier in her treatment of Des Grieux. I particularly liked her lingering glances at him before cosying up to the other party guests.
Ryoichi Hirano's Lescaut has great flair and exuberance. He's also horribly brash, pimping out his sister for money, though, in the tipsy pas de deux with Itziar Mendizabal's intoxicated Mistress, the pair raise a smile in a story where the laughs are few.
Nicholas Georgiadis designs exquisitely capture 18th-century Paris, and the scenes are further brought to life by the rowdy corps de ballet, who bound through their steps with great energy and relish.
There are few final scenes more vivid in classical ballet than the dry ice of the Louisiana swamp where a frail Manon, now stripped of all her pomp and wealth, battles through the brutal pas de deux. Lamb tenses her body in the final lifts before letting it fall limp in Des Grieux's arms. If the goosebumps haven't come yet, they surely will now. The tragic story offers the company a perfect opportunity for a Manon masterclass.
Manon is in repertoire at the Royal Opera House until 6 November