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  1. I have just heard from Connie Vowles and she is happy for me to inform you on here that she is now dancing with Dutch National Ballet and loving it.
  2. My “Manon” marathon ended on Saturday evening on an absolute high with Jurgita Dronina’s Manon who, like her Odette/Odile only two weeks ago, reached stratospheric levels, taking the rest of the cast with her. I salute Daniel McCormick who, due to illness, danced four out of the eight performances as Lescaut with three different Mistresses! For all it may look chaotic, the drunken pas de deux in Act II requires very skilful partnering to make it look that way without injuring either party. McCormick has risen magnificently to the challenge, especially given his youth. He is a naturally elegant dancer and his Act I solo became more polished with each performance, as did his characterisation as a darkly powerful, charismatic chancer whose downfall at the hands of Monsieur GM was particularly chilling in tonight’s performance. His Mistress at this performance, for the first and last time, was the spirited Katja Khaniukova who proved to be no pushover when deciding who would be offered her charms. Her tantalising solo in Act I had both class and seductiveness in the languorous but elegant way she used her upper body and arms and, as always, her beautiful footwork was a joy to watch. In just over forty-eight hours since her last performance, Dronina had added even more details to her Manon to enchant and beguile Des Grieux, Monsieur GM and, of course, the audience. What I will remember most about that first scene is her radiant and disarming smile which lit up the stage as she stepped out of the carriage and then walked downstage in wonderment at all that was new and exciting for her. The last time we see such radiance is during the Act II bedroom pas de deux when, to break the tension as Des Grieux tries to get her to remove the bracelet, she affectionately taps his face or upper chest ever more playfully. I am quite simply overwhelmed by the change in Isaac Hernandez from his rather tentative Des Grieux which I saw in Milton Keynes. If I had any remaining doubts about his ability to give an emotionally charged performance, they were completely blown away today by the power and veracity of his heartfelt emotions. And his chemistry with Dronina is simply electrifying. For the first time, I caught a moment right at the back of the stage when he was obviously already smitten: as she passed him, she looked back and, despite all the other distractions going on, I could see in those expressive eyes of hers and her body language a mixture of curiosity and attraction. Dronina and Hernandez obviously have complete trust in each other which made their first pas de deux even more rapturous and there was a real sense of risk-taking as Hernandez responded to every seemingly spontaneous movement Dronina made with her upper back and head in the gloriously secure, spectacular lifts. There was again that wonderful intimacy in which there were so many moments when they almost kissed and then there were her sublime aerial walks with head tilted backwards in ecstasy and those beautifully expressive feet. Great actors deliver their lines as if inventing them and saying them for the very first time, and this is how I felt about everything Dronina and Hernandez did (although of course it was most definitely MacMillan’s choreography!), so spontaneous did their whole performance feel. This wonderful sense of freedom and youthful exuberance continued in the bedroom pas de deux and I know I was smiling all the way through as everything they did seemed new and enchanting, even though I have lost count of the number of times I must have seen it! Such wonderfully youthful passion could only end with her spectacular, exuberant dive onto the bed eliciting gasps, laughter and applause from the delighted audience. Fabian Reimair’s already masterful portrayal of Monsieur GM reached a new level of lust simmering away under the surface as he practically devoured her feet and legs in the exceptionally erotic pas de trois and, as before, Dronina’s very young Manon was only too keen to put on her elaborate coat again but there was something very touching about the way she knelt beside the bed she had shared with Des Grieux only shortly beforehand so that we were aware who owned her heart if not her body. Once again, there was a magical aura surrounding Dronina as she made her entrance in Act II with Reimair leading her with great pride. Hernandez looked totally forlorn as she walked tantalisingly close to him showing with the subtlest of reaction that she knew he was there, and, as before, he never took his eyes off her as he desperately tried to get near to her. In her beautifully seductive solo, as well as her alluring dégagés, I noticed the lovely, sensuous little ronds she made with her left lower leg and foot. In the dance with the men, the sultry way she dived, curving her back as she did so and then stretching it languorously as they lifted her up again was mesmerising. There was a magic moment of stillness in this scene, although I cannot remember when it happened, apart from the fact there was a lot going on in the centre of the stage, when Manon and Des Grieux are on opposite sides of the stage at the front, she in front of the card table. She turned her head to look at him and there was such longing in her eyes and in her body language that her façade of sophistication seemed to disappear just for that moment. I had found the scene when they are alone and Des Grieux expresses his love for her intensely moving on Thursday but tonight it reached new levels of poignancy as he threw himself at her feet and they searched each other’s eyes. When they fled back to his lodgings, the pas de deux initially had an even more carefree sense than on Thursday as Dronina playfully teased him before the moment when, as she draped herself round the bedpost, he saw the bracelet which she would not give up until he tore it from her wrist and threw her to the ground and, like McWhinney and Frola in the afternoon, they were both so shocked by his action that they clung together in mutual forgiveness. The intrusion of GM with Lescaut as his prisoner led to a particularly violent confrontation, with Manon lashing out at the gloating GM to try to reach her brother and then her heartbreaking outpouring of grief as she resisted attempts to pull her away from his dead body. The opening scene in Act III was also more heartbreaking than before with James Streeter’s Gaoler even more brutal as he manhandled Dronina’s fragile Manon who vainly tried to resist his advances and return to Hernandez who looked on helpless and horrified until Manon was dragged off and he literally flew after her. Not only was the following sexual assault by the Gaoler particularly vicious but, when he had put the bracelet round her wrist, he started to attack her again with great brutality, ignoring the arrival of Des Grieux and then falling heavily once Des Grieux had stabbed him, almost pulling Manon down with him. I am not sure I have ever watched this scene being played with such realism before! The final pas de deux was one of those great moments in the theatre when the audience holds it collective breath as Hernandez and the increasingly fragile Dronina affirmed their love for each other in distorted and even more risky movements from the previous pas de deux accompanied by Massenet’s soaring and intensely moving music so ravishingly played by the orchestra under Sutherland’s passionate reading of the score. As before, for me the tears welled up at Dronina’s final off-balance arabesque, imbued with such utter despair, and then again as her body went limp just before Hernandez lays her on the ground, and I doubt there were any dry eyes in the house as he wept uncontrollably over her dead body. It has been an absolute privilege to see so many great performances this week and during the autumn, ending with, for me, the greatest and most moving of them all from an exceptional cast led by the most exceptional of them all, the divine Jurgita Dronina. I hope with all my heart it will not be another ten years until ENB performs this masterpiece again!
  3. I was sorry to miss the London debut of the wonderful partnership of Alison McWhinney and Francesco Gabriele Frola when it was moved up a day, especially as it meant missing the only London performance of Jung ah Choi’s delightful Mistress, but I was very happy to catch their second show only twenty-four hours later and was extremely impressed at how fresh and spontaneous their performance of the challenging and exhausting choreography was! Saturday’s matinée also featured the fabulous partnership of Ken Saruhashi and Crystal Costa as Lescaut and his Mistress, both of whom added layers to their already excellent characterisations from Thursday. Costa, in particular, was not always the vivacious Mistress of her previous performance but seemed slightly more disillusioned with her life with Lescaut as he continually tried to pimp her out to all and sundry in Acts I and II, sometimes just going through the motions in her solos as if she was weary of having to display her wares yet again. Saruhashi, with the sweetly innocent McWhinney as his sister, showed more of his dark side in the Act I pas de trois, manipulating her every move to entice the gentlemanly but nevertheless ruthless Monsieur GM of Daniel Kraus. However, their drunken pas de deux was still the comic highlight of the performance, looking every bit as spontaneous as previously. Watching the same dancers explore different ways to portray their characters in subsequent performances is one of the great joys of being able to see so many performances of this masterpiece. The sweetness of McWhinney’s Manon, which also imbued her lovely Giselle and Juliet, made her enchanting from her first entrance and, just as I remembered from her performance in Southampton, her exquisite footwork and her lovely, expressive face gave a breathtaking, dreamy quality to her sequence of steps forward which, for me, becomes Manon’s signature step as we watch it repeated with variations in both the steps and emotion in each Act. She also has the easiest and loveliest of épaulements, especially in the first pas de deux with the ardent Frola as her Des Grieux. The chemistry between them has intensified and “breathtaking” is the feeling I had over and over again watching the joy of their first pas de deux, leading naturally to the rapturous bedroom pas de deux which had a quality of risk-taking which can only be undertaken in MacMillan’s notoriously accident-prone choreography when both dancers have complete trust in each other, as these two do. Afterwards, McWhinney’s carefree dive onto the bed brought laughter and applause from the audience which seemed almost at capacity. I am continually excited and impressed by the passionate dancing of Frola and this extended to his volatile confrontation with Lescaut on Manon’s departure. I have not written much about the Courtesans, especially the warring ones, in Act II because I confess I have seen so many I cannot remember who fought with whom, even though I have the cast sheets! Suffice it to say, they all provided a great deal of entertainment, mostly keeping their antics as natural as the choreography allows! The newly sophisticated McWhinney made a stunning entrance, carrying off the huge coat with aplomb, but her anguish when seeing Des Grieux there, although subtle, was nonetheless palpable. Frola, even standing at the side of the stage, held my attention through the intensity of his body language as he is wracked with grief at seeing Manon seemingly enjoying GM’s attentions. I loved the moments in Manon’s solo, danced with both seductiveness and delicacy, during the freeze when she turns ever so slightly and, almost secretively, lovingly holds out her left arm towards Des Grieux in comparison to her larger, more flamboyant carriage of the right arm towards GM. As in Southampton, there was something so dreamlike and hypnotic about her dance with the men, especially those wonderful moments where she dives down into them and then is brought upright above their heads. Every time I see this dance to the equally hypnotic music, I marvel not only at MacMillan’s genius but also at that of Hilda Gaunt and Leighton Lucas who put the original score together although they no longer receive credit, at least on the cast sheet, for its creation! As in their performance last year, I loved the way Frola was a picture of desperation during this dance, always trying to attract her attention and getting so hot under the collar as if almost suffocated by his despair, that he tears his jacket off and loosens his necktie when the room has cleared, making perfect dramatic sense of this action, the practical reason being to give Des Grieux freedom of movement for the beautiful ports de bras in the solo which follows. Frola did not disappoint in the dramatic depths with which he imbued it, making the moment when McWhinney finally embraces him so very moving. I can only repeat what I wrote previously, that their Act II bedroom pas de deux had great dramatic depth as Des Grieux tries to make Manon give up her bracelet and both McWhinney and Frola looked shocked as he threw her to the floor. Then they both appeared to ask each other’s forgiveness in an intense embrace, interrupted by the arrival of GM and her brother, with Saruhashi giving a masterful portrayal of the beaten and broken Lescaut. McWhinney’s distress as she tries to reach her dying brother was gut-wrenching! This emotional rollercoaster of a performance came to an end with a pas de deux glorious in its risk-taking in the spectacular lifts and heartbreaking as McWhinney’s broken body is tenderly laid on the ground by Frola and he sobs uncontrollably over her. I have long considered McWhinney a principal dancer in all but name and this unforgettable, awe-inspiring performance from her serves to reinforce what a truly special dancer she is. I hope there will be many more opportunities for her to dance with Frola, who seems the perfect stage soulmate for her.
  4. I was so pleased to attend Friday evening’s performance to experience yet again the sublime partnership of Erina Takahashi and Jeffrey Cirio. They are so perfectly matched and give the gentlest, most tender reading of Manon and her Des Grieux. Before I write about that, I have to agree with a previous post about the irritating ‘business’ going on around the sides of the stage. It seems to me that the only direction the beggars, harlots, thieves etc. have been given is “keep busy”, resulting in the pantomimic, caricature ‘acting’ I loathe, especially noticeable when the lead characters are so real and natural, which was one of my niggles when I first saw the production again in the autumn! However, because I know the ballet so well, I can hone in on the real action and ignore the rest (unless it is really intrusive!), especially when the leads are as immediately engaging as Takahashi and Cirio! However, things seemed to have settled somewhat by Saturday evening’s performance (more about that in another post) or maybe I just became truly expert at ignoring them! As in the autumn, I immediately fell for Cirio with his elegant dancing so full of quiet emotion and always directed towards the diminutive, wide-eyed Takahashi’s Manon. Her formidable technique is always subjugated to the character she is portraying, and her Manon is full of quiet gentleness, like Cirio’s Des Grieux. Her exquisite footwork, which I have always admired, is used to perfection in Manon’s first entrance, and I loved the way she imbued all that filigree footwork with a sense of wonderment at the fascination she creates in others. After Cirio’s beautifully expressive solo, Takahashi also makes much of the stillness as she almost hovers en pointe before taking off into the most joyous pas de deux in which there is such a delightful, youthful intimacy that it can only end with the two of them running off together! Before that, there was the joy of the wonderfully elegant solo danced by Daniel McCormick as Lescaut and the exuberant Rina Kanehara owning the stage in the Mistress’s solo. She appears so determined to enjoy life that even his sometimes brutish behaviour towards her cannot diminish her zest (or that phenomenal technique!). This was especially so in the Act II drunken pas de deux where even an unexpected tumble towards the end (and anyone seeing it for the first time would have assumed it was part of the choreography) could not displace that joyous smile! As in the performance I saw in Milton Keynes, the Act I bedroom pas de deux from Takahashi and Cirio was the embodiment of young love and had acquired an even more ecstatic sheen, culminating in that famous dive by Manon onto the bed! Her euphoria was quickly dashed by the arrival of Lescaut and Monsieur GM. Dmitri Gruzdyev plays him as a brutish, lecherous predator intent on owning the delectable Manon as he places the necklace around her neck in a gesture purely denoting ownership rather than the seductive quality Reimair gives it. Takahashi’s Manon appears bewildered and hurt by her brother’s manipulation of the situation and goes through the motions of the pas de trois as if constantly being coached by him as to what to do. As she goes off with GM, I had the feeling it was only because she was submitting to her brother’s will, as no doubt she would do to GM’s, but that she was not going to enjoy it! Perhaps a timely reminder, especially with the latest television dramatisation of Les Misérables, of what women without fortune throughout time have been obliged to do to survive. As before, when Takahashi is paraded around the gambling den, her face is almost expressionless and there is that slight faltering in her walk as she passes Des Grieux. This is Manon the actress as she performs for GM, firstly her seductive solo, with those smaller arm gestures to Des Grieux, and then the aerial manipulation. When her façade does finally crumble, and she clings to DG, it is intensely moving. And what a beautiful, yearning solo Cirio gave us! When they have escaped back to his lodgings, Manon’s relief at finally being able to express her love for Des Grieux was evident, although there was still that almost childlike refusal to give up the bracelet which represented her one piece of financial security. Takahashi’s naturally gamine appearance adds an extra poignancy to Manon’s arrival in the New World and the unwanted attentions of Daniel Kraus’s Gaoler. Cirio’s distress at seeing her carted away by the guards progressed naturally to his stabbing of the Gaoler and their escape. Both Cirio and Takahashi were heartbreaking in their response to each other in the final pas de deux, still clinging to their memories of their first joyous love as her strength fades. They seem such a natural partnership that I hope very much they will be cast together in many more performances to come!
  5. Unfortunately I don't have a ticket for this show but at least it is giving me time to write up all the others!
  6. I have already written much about the two performances I saw on tour of the fabulous new partnership of Begoña Cao and Aitor Arrieta. On Thursday evening, there was a real buzz amongst the almost-capacity audience for the only performance by the company’s “home-grown” ballerina and perhaps one of the youngest dancers to take on the challenging role of Des Grieux. As reported in my previous brief post, due to sometimes unintuitive conducting from Orlando Jopling, the performance did suffer from an orchestral accompaniment that, although ravishing, did lack some impetus, particularly in the Act II pas de deux, and it was for that reason alone that it did not always reach the dizzying heights of the performance I saw in Southampton. However, that is a very small niggle in an otherwise unforgettable evening and of course anyone seeing this cast for the first time would have been completely unaware of it, such is their artistry. The last-minute spate of injuries and seasonal illnesses, presumably the reason for not displaying all the casting on the website as was done for the autumn tour, meant that some alterations in the pairing of the supporting roles have been made since then, but I was delighted that the brilliant partnership of Ken Saruhashi’s scheming Lescaut and Crystal Costa’s Mistress remained intact. To say that Costa’s Mistress is a ‘tart with a heart’ is to do an injustice to her gorgeously refined dancing but her warmth, charm and vivacity lit up the stage whenever she appeared, making the heartless slap by the controlling Lescaut in the first scene seem particularly cruel. As before, the haunted look on her face when she realises deportation could be her fate was intensely moving. Arrieta’s Des Grieux is definitely the bookish young man of Abbé Prévost’s story (who is seduced away from the priesthood by Manon after she first abandons him – a scene which is retained in Massenet’s opera). He is an innocent abroad, unsure how to react to the teasing of the Courtesans at the coaching inn, but we can see that his life will change completely as he falls utterly in love with Manon from the moment he sees her. With a beautifully pliant, long lean body, Cao’s Manon is already aware that she can fascinate, as witnessed by the way she hands her cape and hat to the obliging gentlemen, but not yet of how devastating this will power will be. There is something so ethereal yet sensual about the way she moves, and her whole body looked breathtakingly beautiful as Lescaut effortlessly lifted her whilst teasing the Old Man. Her materialistic side is already evident in her facial expression as she realises the Old Man’s bag left with her to guard is filled with money. When Des Grieux danced for Manon, there was something genuinely touching about the gentle, elegant way he expressed his feelings, as if daring to hope they might be reciprocated. I noticed that he took both her hands to kiss them and Cao then brought her hands to her chest in a gesture expressing an inner joy. When he led her from the chair, her bourrées were so exquisite, it seemed as if she was floating and then there was that lovely moment when she stands so still, en pointe, as if the sudden love she experiences is almost overwhelming. And then those gloriously eloquent legs and feet of hers, expressing total rapture in the aerial walks! And how lovely to see her eloquent quicksilver épaulement in the little series of steps where Arrieta repeatedly turns her to look at him and then away again! This was MacMillan choreography danced in the style of Ashton at its very best! As with Dronina in the afternoon, Cao’s beautiful, seductive way of stretching her feet to the very ends of her toes so that it appears she is not wearing pointe shoes at all is the hallmark of MacMillan’s conception of Manon so that Monsieur GM’s obsession (and MacMillan’s!) is completely understandable. If the music for the bedroom pas de deux lacked the expected impetus, Arrieta and Cao made up for it by an almost languorous sensuality and in those astonishing lifts with Arrieta carrying Cao on high with her amazing backbends, one could feel her ecstasy pulsating through the glorious arc of her body. It was so good to see Junor Souza back onstage, after his injury shortly before his scheduled Siegfried in the autumn, emanating danger and lust in his imposing Monsieur GM. With the manipulative Lescaut, the pas de trois reached new levels of eroticism with Cao’s tantalising developpés and huge eyes hypnotising him. As well as having technique of the highest quality, Saruhashi and Costa are exceptionally fine actors and know how to be genuinely funny without playing for laughs. Therefore, their drunken pas de deux in Act II was a masterpiece of comedy, looking completely spontaneous and natural (and some of the ‘drunken’ ladies and gentlemen onstage should take note of how it is done!). The Mistress has to allow her body to be manipulated into some of the most ungainly positions ever seen onstage and Costa was brilliant at this, especially when Lescaut is staggering around, holding her upside down, and she relaxed her upper body so much that her head was bobbing about in a truly comic way but totally believable. Cao’s glittering entrance showed her transformation into a woman of such sophistication and dignity that one could sense the feeling of awe from everyone else in the room, and the almost gloating pride of GM. Cao is supreme in the Act II solo, imbuing every movement with a tantalising sexuality, again with that gloriously languid upper body and ports de bras which almost glow with electricity. Arrieta’s Des Grieux could only watch with a sense of increasing hopelessness as this evolved into the hypnotic and erotic manipulation of Cao by the gentlemen and there was something so touching about the desperate way he sought to intervene, only to be rejected again by Cao, her alarm showing in her luminous eyes. His solo of yearning for her was heartbreaking, and her descent from sophistication into a broken woman as she realises her all-consuming love for him had me welling up with tears! It was in the subsequent pas de deux that I keenly felt the lack of pulse in the music which is needed to drive the pas de deux onwards, so superbly drawn from the orchestra by Gavin Sutherland at the afternoon’s performance but then he is, for me, the best ballet conductor I have come across in my many years of attending performances, intuitively understanding the support each individual dancer needs. However, Cao and Arrieta magnificently overcame this with a most tender, soulful reconciliation, Cao again letting the ravishing sound flow through her entire body. If such a small moment in Act II had me welling with tears, Act III was almost unbearable, starting from Cao’s descent from the boat with her limbs and body taking on such an air of fragility but still with her luminous beauty attracting the attention of Daniel Kraus’s quietly authoratitive Gaoler, with Arrieta’s young, distraught Des Grieux powerless to stop him. Cao is so fragile by the time of the Gaoler’s sexual assault that, as I said of her previous performances, her body appears totally broken as she literally lies in a heap on the floor. The final, desperate pas de deux had me inwardly gasping at so many moments as Arrieta seemed to be trying to bring Cao back from her delirium by reliving the precious moments from their previous pas de deux and Cao desperately attempting to respond to him and then that final, off-balance arabesque as a heartbreaking distortion of its previous appearance as an expression of their ecstatic love, caught with such passion by Arrieta that it brought me to tears before Arrieta’s anguish when he realises she is dead finished me off completely. When Cao was presented with a huge sheaf of flowers following the company bow, it was wonderful to see everyone onstage and in the pit break into spontaneous applause for her magnificent performance, in which Arrieta also proved what a superb artist he is. To respond to a comment in an earlier post about the lack of flowers for Dronina, there have been flowers for the dancers at every performance but it appears entirely random as to which are presented onstage and which are delivered to the dressing rooms! For those who were at this performance, I hope my report will bring back memories of this very special evening and, for those who were not, will provide a glimpse of what the audience was privileged to see.
  7. Please, please, please continue to watch ballets and let us know how you react to them! Apart from paying tribute to the wonderful performances I am privileged to see, I would hope that my reports enhance your viewing pleasure by pointing out some of the lovely details to watch out for. Yes, I do have specialist knowledge but the biggest pleasure of having that knowledge is to share it with others.
  8. The matinée audience on Thursday was of a respectable size but nowhere near what this emotional rollercoaster of a performance deserved. Jurgita Dronina is Abbé Prévost’s “very young” Manon, looking barely more than a child as she emerges from the coach and runs towards her brother with the most dazzling of smiles. As she gazes out at the auditorium in wide-eyed wonderment, it is as if she is seeing all of Paris laid out at her feet. This is no ballerina pretending to be an adolescent – she simply IS. Dronina has added so many fine details to her performance since last year that it was hard to watch anything else on stage, even when she was at the back, for fear of missing something. Isaac Hernandez as Des Grieux responded as I have never seen him before: once he has seen her, never taking his eyes off her and, when they are finally alone, she could not take her eyes off him so that the chemistry between them was electrifying. His solo, while still lacking a degree of finesse, was imbued with passion and everything was directed to her, with his eyes continually coming back to her. Then a magical moment: after he gently and tenderly kissed her hand, she let her arm linger in the air for a moment and then sank back in her chair with a feeling of sheer bliss. Then came a pas de deux with all the spontaneous, rapturous abandon I had longed to see at their performance in Milton Keynes. As he led her gently from the chair, her gorgeous bourrées shimmered, as if quivering with excitement. I noticed even more freedom in Dronina’s beautifully pliant upper back and neck, especially in the arabesque when she rolls her head towards him as he turns her to face him: their faces were so close it was if they were going to kiss. In fact, there were so many moments like this in their growing intimacy and, for her, growing ecstasy as Hernandez lifted her with great passion, his very secure partnering allowing each lift to draw a more ecstatic response from her upper body, arms and head. The last lift before the final embrace was breathtaking: as he ran forward, she did a sort of backbend with a sense of complete rapture throughout her whole body. In the following bedroom pas de deux, Dronina’s Manon showed her childlike playfulness, so sweetly demonstrated in her gentle teasing of her travelling companion, the Old Man. Perfectly reflecting the ravishing sounds drawn from the orchestra by Gavin Sutherland, the rapturous young love between Manon and Des Grieux developed into a deeper passion but always with a sense of youthful abandon, especially as he spun her round in the off-balance arabesque, culminating after he has left to post his letter with that delightful moment when she hurled herself onto the bed which looked completely spontaneous. Indeed, everything about Dronina’s performance looked spontaneous, with nothing calculated or planned, bringing a wonderful freshness to MacMillan’s inspiring choreography. This performance benefited from the chilling presence of Fabian Reimair’s dissolute and dangerous Monsieur GM. If there was anyone in the audience not aware of MacMillan’s foot fetish before this performance, they would be left in no doubt about it as Reimair first fondled the legs and feet of Lescaut’s Mistress, played as a delightfully dizzy airhead by Rina Kanehara, and then became obsessed with Manon’s in an erotically charged pas de trois aided and abetted by the darkly manipulative Lescaut of Daniel McCormick. Dronina responded with her beautifully seductive développé and exquisitely pointed feet. She played on his obsession later in her Act II solo, when she tantalised GM with her delicious dégagés, again with those beautifully stretched feet, while Des Grieux looked on helplessly. Before the pas de trois, there was more wonderful detail with the coat as she could not stop stroking the fur until, in a gesture as much seductive as proof of ownership, Reimair placed the necklace ever so slowly around her neck and there was a little shiver of ecstasy as she feels the diamonds touch her skin. After the pas de trois, the way she impulsively rushed to put on the coat again was like a child with a new toy and reinforced just how young Manon is while demonstrating that it was life’s luxuries she could not forego, even if it meant abandoning her beloved Des Grieux. Act I was brought to a stunning conclusion by a very realistic fight between an anguished Des Grieux and Lescaut as Lescaut forces him to accept the money GM has paid for Manon. I was once told by the legendary Ashton dancer, Julia Farron, that Margot Fonteyn had such an aura about her that, whenever she entered a room, all eyes would be on her, and this is the effect created by the Act II entrance of Reimair and Dronina. And always, there was Hernandez, never taking his eyes off her and trying to attract her attention, always resolutely ignored by her until he interrupts her hypnotic dance with the other men, when her distress that GM might see them together was so real. When they are finally alone, with DG expressing his love for her through his dancing, the moment her facade crumbles was intensely moving. During the card game which followed, I loved the way she continually tried to distract GM from Des Grieux’s clumsy cheating by showering him with kisses and caresses in a very playful way. After Manon and Des Grieux escape, their pas de deux was initially so carefree it was as if the interlude with GM had never happened and they were back to their magical first encounter. Until, that is, Des Grieux tried to make her give up her bracelet and then the Manon who cannot live without luxury returned. With Reimair as GM, his shooting of Lescaut in front of Manon was particularly chilling and ruthless, bringing forth an almost unbearable outpouring of grief from Manon. As they arrive in the New World, Dronina’s Manon is already very weak and disoriented, so much so that she cannot even walk down the gangplank without the tender support of Des Grieux. From this moment on, she cannot bear to be parted from Des Grieux and pushes away the advances of Streeter’s brutal Gaoler to return to Des Grieux each time. After the Gaoler’s vicious sexual assault, Dronina curls into a foetal position as if to soothe her abused body. As Manon and Des Grieux escape, having killed the Gaoler, I love the way the mists swirl onto stage with a sense of foreboding, perfectly reflecting the Dies Irae theme in the music, and Dronina makes it clear from her anguished body language that the parade of people from her past represents her hallucinations. There followed the most heartbreaking final pas de deux, full of despair yet affirming their extraordinary love for each other as Dronina again could not bear to be parted from Hernandez for a single moment, hurling her broken body into his arms with every last ounce of her strength until, following that last, intensely moving off-balance arabesque of utter despair, her body becomes achingly sad and limp as he catches her in one final lift and tenderly lays her on the ground before realising she has died. Well, this really has turned into L’Histoire de Manon but I hope I have helped anyone going to the Saturday evening performance to recognise what a truly remarkable and unforgettable experience it will be.
  9. This will be a very brief post before I head back into London for the Royal Ballet dress rehearsal, thus sadly missing the debut a day early of McWhinney and Frola, before this evening’s performance by the wonderful partnership of Takahashi and Cirio. Both performances yesterday deserve more detailed reports so I will try to do this tomorrow morning or after the evening performance by Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez. At the matinée, Dronina enchanted me all over again with her exquisite Manon. After their performance in Milton Keynes, I expressed a wish that Hernandez would be more rapturous and yesterday afternoon my wish came true! Although his dancing still lacks a degree of finesse, it was filled with such passion that I found all the pas de deux breathtaking and, during the final pas de deux, I felt my heart pounding at the impending tragedy! I am therefore looking forward to tomorrow evening’s performance to see if it reaches even greater heights! The otherwise glorious performance by Begoña Cao and Aitor Arrieta in the evening was slightly marred by the unsupportive conducting of Orlando Jopling. Conducting the score for the first time at the Coliseum, I do not know if he was overwhelmed by its vastness but he appeared to be conducting a concert performance of the score. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the ravishing sounds coming from the pit but they lacked the impetus needed for MacMillan’s exhilarating but exhausting pas de deux. However, nothing could diminish the heart-breaking final moments. It is just a shame that the exceptional partnership of Cao and Arrieta only received the one performance. More about it tomorrow!
  10. Having seen so many visceral, heartrending performances (five out of six) during the company’s autumn tour, about which I wrote extensively, and of course the thrilling final performance of “Swan Lake” on Sunday, I was surprised to be somewhat underwhelmed by Alina Cojocaru’s and Joseph Caley’s opening night performance. I am sure there will be many who disagree with me, as luckily most of the near-capacity audience loved them and therefore the company received the rousing ovation it richly deserved, even if the houselights were brought up far too early. I felt there was not enough chemistry between the leads and, although I cannot fault the dancing (except to say that Cojocaru’s unflattering pointe shoes distracted from the filigree footwork of the choreography), I felt both pas de deux in Act I lacked the rapturous abandon I saw from the other casts, and even the final pas de deux was a bit too carefully danced for my taste. However, Cojocaru’s eye make-up in Act III was superb and really opened up her eyes, making them appear huge which added to her already gamine-like appearance. It took a while for me to warm to Jeffrey Cirio’s Lescaut in Act I (having immediately fallen for his Des Grieux previously!) but his characterisation deepened and, with his flawless technique, the drunken solo in Act II was nothing short of brilliant, as was his pas de deux with his long-suffering but indulgent mistress, Katja Khaniukova. From her first appearance in Act I, she was a very high class courtesan with her particularly elegant yet seductive and vivacious dancing which certainly caught the eye of James Streeter’s Monsieur GM. Her characterful and stylish solo in Act II, when she is trying to distract Des Grieux, demonstrated her exceptionally exquisite footwork. It was extraordinary to see a full house of other Lescauts and Mistresses in the ensembles and, in the very elegant trio of dancing gentlemen, Thursday night’s Des Grieux, Aitor Arrieta, along with Ken Saruhashi and Daniel McCormick who will both be dancing Lescaut. There was also the loveliest line-up of Courtesans: Crystal Costa, Adela Ramirez, Rina Kanehara, Jia Zhang and Anjuli Hudson, and it was wonderful to see the sublime technique and vibrant personalities of Costa and Ramirez given full comic rein in their warring duet in Act II. In fact, watching the vivacious Ramirez, I find it curious she has not been cast as Lescaut’s Mistress! In Act III, the beginning of the dance of the deported prostitutes was full of the pathos and hopelessness I remember being so moved by ten years ago although it was not sustained throughout and I was more conscious of the choreography rather than the emotion by the end. However, Act III benefitted from the chilling Gaoler of Fabian Reimair, oozing power and lust as he inspected the new arrivals and chose Manon for his pleasure, resulting in a particularly brutal assault, and the look of shock and surprise on his face as he is stabbed (probably only visible to those of us on the left side of the auditorium) was unforgettable. Although overall this performance showed the company in top form, it was the sublime music, so superbly played by the orchestra under the miraculous baton of maestro supremo Gavin Sutherland, which touched my soul and tugged at my heartstrings.
  11. Beggars, courtesans, dancing gentlemen, townsfolk, deported prostitutes - there may not be as much for the ladies as in "Swan Lake" but there is still plenty for them to dance! However, this extremely hard-working company is used to such an intense performance schedule.
  12. As of today, Dronina should be dancing both her performances! Frola is a fantastic Des Grieux (see my previous post of his performance in Southampton) and I am looking forward to seeing him again with Alison McWhinney.
  13. I, too, would have to watch that DVD again as I really can't remember all the details from so long ago! However, it would not surprise me if there were slight differences in the staging although in the main it is definitely Ashton's.
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