The Royal Ballet: Manon

Federico Bonelli and Marianela Nunez in MANON. Pics by Alice Pennefather
Federico Bonelli and Marianela Nunez in MANON. Pics by Alice Pennefather

I  have just been privileged to see a stunning, lavish and opulent production by the Royal Ballet of Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s masterpiece MANON. McMillan’s work was photographed with plenty of close ups so you feel as if you are almost on stage with the Company.

This is the 40th anniversary year for this ballet and quite a few companies around the world have included it in their 2014 subscription program, including the Australian Ballet earlier in the year.

MANON tells a cautionary tale of love, greed and corruption, a major three act work requiring a huge cast and the Royal Ballet,  the Company with which it was originally created, did itself proud.

Macmillan’s athletic choreography is extremely demanding, almost death defying at times, and the dancers appeared to relish the challenge.

In some ways structured in a similar way to a traditional nineteenth century ballet, the work nevertheless broke new ground when it premiered.

Nicholas Georgiadis’ set and costume designs are sumptuously reproduced and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, under the excellent baton of maestro Martin Yates, are tremendous.

There are several amazing pas de deux spaced throughout the ballet for Manon herself. These include a joyous, lyrical falling in love sequence with Des Grieux in Act 1, and a delicious, exuberant bed room scene one that directly follows on. Also with Des Grieux there are headlong rushes and jumps into his arms contrasted with smaller more intimate gestures of affection, (closely followed by an amazing, lust and corruption pas de trois between Manon , Lescaut and Monsieur G.M. whilst Des Grieux is momentarily away). Add to this the appalling, explicit rape scene with the menacing jailer in Act 3 and the final, exhausting pas de deux again with Des Grieux .

As well, there is the magnificent, extraordinary set piece in Act 2 Scene 1 at Madame X’s where Manon is passed around by the men like a jewel , just another possession to be owned, with Monsieur G.M. stepping in and saying ‘she’s mine’ leaving poor Des Greiux broken hearted at her deception. You could also, at times, pick phrases of movement reminiscent of Macmillan’s production  of Romeo and Juliet.

The ballet featured fine ensemble work throughout, exemplified by great dancing and characterization. Something I pondered, are we meant to pick up in Act 3, with the entrance of the corps de ballet of the poor transported convict women, similarities in patterns and choreography to Giselle and Swan Lake?!

Our heroine Manon was superbly danced by Marianela Nunez , a glorious blend of dazzling technique and magnificent acting. At the beginning, when we first see her, she is all dewy eyed innocence. However, once she has been sold- by her own brother! – to Monsieur G.M. she succumbs to the allure of wealth and luxury.

Contrasted with this, is her love for Des Grieux, which changes everything . We see her fall from the pampered mistress of Monsieur G.M, startling even Madame X, to becoming a penniless,transported convict.

Des Grieux, Manon’s true love, was magnificently danced by the very handsome Federico Bonelli. His dancing was incredibly beautiful with immaculate epaulement, glorious creamy soft high jumps, and a marvellous ‘singing ‘ line. His solo introducing himself in Act 1 was elegantly performed . And he was an exceptional partner in the very demanding pas de deux , giving his all. Bravo!

Lescaut, Manon’s dastardly brother, was tremendously danced by Ricardo Cervera. He has a ‘drunk’ pas de deux with his mistress (Laura Morera) in Act 2 that brings the house down. Is he really a villain, or is he merely succumbing to circumstances?

Gary Avis played the Jailer, oozing menace in Act 3, and  disturbing and extraordinary in the rape scene.

Monsieur G.M. was coldly played by Christopher Saunders, who regarded Manon as a material possession he saw, wanted and took.

This was a dazzling, splendid revival, gripping and in every way compelling.

This Palace Opera and Ballet screening ran for three hours.There were two intervals which saw Darcey Bussell interviewing a number of the dancers  and also featured video snippets of rehearsals.

The Palace Opera and Ballet screening of MANON played at selected cinemas between the 14th and the 19th November.