Theatre Review - 'Manon'

Posted on: 18 May 2011 by Alexander Hay

A fine moment of ballet in this new adaption

Swept off her feet in Manon

A 20th century classic ballet has received a welcome revival in the form of the Royal Ballet’s production of Manon (Royal Opera House), set to the exquisite music of Jules Massenet and with choreography by the late, much lamented Kenneth Macmillan.

We are transported back to pre-Revolutionary France where actresses, gentlemen and the demi-monde from Paris frequent the courtyard of an inn. Among them are Des Grieux, a young student, the wealthy Monsieur G.M. and Lescaut who is there to meet his sister on her way to enter a convent. 

When Manon arrives and meets Des Grieux the two immediately fall in love and decide to escape to Paris, with the help of money she has stolen from an old gentleman. Eaving the inn, Lescaut is dismayed that Manon has disappeared and Monsieur G.M. tells him he is interested in his sister and, because of his wealth, Lescaut promises to find Manon and persuade her to accept him.

At Des Grieux’s lodgings in Paris Manon declares her love for him but when he goes out to post a letter Lescaut arrives with Monsieur G.M. and Manon yields to G.M.’s advances. When Des Grieux returns, lescaut persuades him that there will be great riches for all of them if he, Des Grieux, will sanction the liaison between G.M. and Manon.

But the lure of money against the feelings of the heart proves irresistible and leads to Manon’s tragic downfall. After Des Grieux is caught cheating at cards at a party given by Monsieur G.M. the latter calls in the police to arrest Manon as a prostitute, her brother is killed in the ensuing struggle, and Manon herself deported to a penal colony in America.

Based on the 18th century novel by the Abbe Prevost which has inspired a ballet, an opera and an award winning film, this is a work combining a potent brew of jealous passion, ill fated love, money, betrayal and redemption. This production comes over as virtually a word free drama, given an elegance and power by the marvellous mix of Massenet’s haunting, lyrical score and Macmillan’s superb choreography, while the decadent milieu of the time is vividly conjured up in Nicholas Georgiadis’s realisitic stage designs.

As you would expect from such a distinguished company the dancing is first rate, managing to be agile, lithe and expressive and in the later scenes with the introduction of some death-defying lifts. The two principals Leanne Benjamin as the capricious Manon who enraptures all the men she meets, and Steven McRae as her poor, bewitched lover, ready to follow her to the ends of the earth, are particularly impressive, their dancing imbued with emotion.

This then is unquestionably one of the Royal Ballet’s biggest triumphs and an evening to savour! Continues in repertory until June. 

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By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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