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zxDaveM

The Royal Ballet: Manon, London, March-May 2018

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28 minutes ago, theorist said:

I thought Hayward was even better tonight than I remember from her debut.

 

Yes, she's really matured into the role now.

 

I thought just about the whole company were on excellent form tonight.

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The company were indeed on good form - again- and although I don't have much time today I wanted to single out Alexander Campbell's very good Lescaut and Marcelino Sambe in the three -super- gentlemen, (between Bracewell and Ball I think) as well- and also the marvellous costumes, which add so much to this production in conjuring up a world.

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If you love the ballet Manon & would rather not read a different viewpoint, then you may prefer to skip this post.

But first the positives about last night. I echo all the praise for Francesca Hayward – the quality of her performance gave me goosebumps & I enjoyed her partnership with Federico Bonelli. As other posters have said, I also felt that the company are on great form.

The first time I saw Manon was in October 2014 & I haven’t seen it since.  Last night, viewing from the amphi, the whole set felt tired to me, too cluttered, with too much going on – there were times when I lost track of the main protagonists in particular scenes. 

So that didn’t help my view of this ballet. But the main thing that I was conscious of watching Manon last night, was that this was a story about a woman facing major choices about what she wanted from love & life, up against a male-dominated society, but that this story was very much being told from the perspective of a male choreographer.

I enjoyed Manon in 2014, so am very struck by how much I have changed my opinion.  I think the change is due to the abuses of male power that have been uncovered since then & the #metoo movement.  So, I started wondering what alterations to Manon I would wish to see.

From articles I have read, I understand Kenneth MacMillan really pushed the boundaries of ballet in his time, including with Manon (1974).  In the case of this particular ballet, I personally feel that it is time now for the trail-blazing baton to be handed on at the Royal Ballet; for a female choreographer to tell the story of Manon. I’m thinking of someone with not just the talent, but also the depth of humanity in their work, such as Crystal Pite.  I feel she could really mine the complexities of the character of Manon herself & the experiences of other women in the ballet, plus bring out the relevance these have with our own times, without veering into stereotypes or melodrama.  (The amount of time Kenneth MacMillan spends in Manon focussed on female prostitutes plying their trade & interacting with male clients now feels to me to be salacious; on the wrong side of titillating.) 

I appreciate that others will feel very differently to me. :)  The above post is purely a very personal reaction to Manon & one that has taken me by surprise.

As I’ve already bought tickets for as many other Manon casts as I could, I’m in a bit of a dilemma. I’d love to see those casts, but I really don’t know if I can sit through this production of Manon again.  If I do, it will be purely because of my appreciation of the talent of the dancers currently in the Royal Ballet.

 

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How lovely to hear the reviews; bittersweet because it seems like forever until I see it in May, but also because I love Bonelli and would really liked to have seen Hayward's Manon.  Access members can only have a discount for one performance per run though so I'll have to enjoy these performances via all your reviews. 

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Anna:  The Arts Desk was about an hour or so late with its overnight review for today's Links.  Not by Hanna Weibye, who has covered most RB work of late, but by David Nice, normally (I think) on their Opera reviews - its 4*, but with something of a sting in the tail:

https://www.theartsdesk.com/dance/manon-royal-ballet-review-glitter-and-betray

 

I'm sure we'll have some more by tomorrow's Links.

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9 minutes ago, Ian Macmillan said:

Anna:  The Arts Desk was about an hour or so late with its overnight review for today's Links.  Not by Hanna Weibye, who has covered most RB work of late, but by David Nice, normally (I think) on their Opera reviews - its 4*, but with something of a sting in the tail:

https://www.theartsdesk.com/dance/manon-royal-ballet-review-glitter-and-betray

 

I'm sure we'll have some more by tomorrow's Links.

 

Thank you Ian.  I'm astonished at the description of the final scene's music as "overblown tosh"! :o

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1 hour ago, Indigo said:

 

So that didn’t help my view of this ballet. But the main thing that I was conscious of watching Manon last night, was that this was a story about a woman facing major choices about what she wanted from love & life, up against a male-dominated society, but that this story was very much being told from the perspective of a male choreographer.

 

 

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts Indigo and they have given me pause for thought.  I love Manon (the ballet) and have done since I first saw it in around 1986 (Leslie Collier and Julian Hosking) and I suspect that is unlikely to change.

 

I have always seen Manon as a manipulator of men rather than a woman facing up to choices in a male dominated society (that is until she is convicted of being a prostitute and sent to the colonies).  I have always thought that she has wanted her cake and eaten it in her manipulation of both Monsieur GM and Des Grieux.

 

I am very much looking forward to the matinee on 12th May but am now interested to see if my view changes because of your thought provoking review. 

 

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Yes, the Francesca Hayward/Federico Bonelli pdd's were glorious; from the meeting pdd in the town square, to the bedroom pdd (the one done at galas) right through to the death one in the swamp - chin-on-chest as the jaw dropped. Claire Calvert and Alexander Campbell were also excellent as Lescaut and his mistress. The one in the swamp though - no wonder she dies the way she gets flung about - I'm sure any medics here on the forum will correct me if I'm wrong, but generally speaking someone who is close to death's door is rarely made better by being flung around in a swamp...

Have to say though, that I agree with 'Indigo' above with some of her comments. The general sleaziness of the whole scenario - from the rich taking their delights at the cost of the poor, ladies of the night selling their souls for a few coppers, the goings on in the goal once they arrive at their deportation 'home', creeps me out a bit. And that's before coming on to the pdt with M GM, Manon, and her brother or the 'passing around' of Manon as an objectified trophy. I appreciate that's the point, of love bursting above this level of sleaze and the temptation of wealth, but makes the scenes between those beautiful, glorious pdd's all the harder to watch at times. Glad I was there though, there was some truly wonderful dancing.

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33 minutes ago, Anna C said:

How lovely to hear the reviews; bittersweet because it seems like forever until I see it in May, but also because I love Bonelli and would really liked to have seen Hayward's Manon.  Access members can only have a discount for one performance per run though so I'll have to enjoy these performances via all your reviews. 

 

Who are you getting to see Anna?

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15 minutes ago, Anna C said:

 

Thank you Ian.  I'm astonished at the description of the final scene's music as "overblown tosh"! :o

 

So am I. The critic appears to have a very narrow view of Massenet, presented with a little too much confidence. Does he also think that, for example, Ah! fuyez, douce image from Massenet's opera Manon is also "second-rate Tchaikovsky passion"? If he does, I think he's in the minority.

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22 minutes ago, Anna C said:

 

Thank you Ian.  I'm astonished at the description of the final scene's music as "overblown tosh"! :o

Yes, I took issue with parts of his review and commented there accordingly.....

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29 minutes ago, zxDaveM said:

Have to say though, that I agree with 'Indigo' above with some of her comments. The general sleaziness of the whole scenario - from the rich taking their delights at the cost of the poor, ladies of the night selling their souls for a few coppers, the goings on in the goal once they arrive at their deportation 'home', creeps me out a bit. And that's before coming on to the pdt with M GM, Manon, and her brother or the 'passing around' of Manon as an objectified tropy

Quote

 

Sorry - this is the first time I've tried to quote, and I seem to have messed it up! But I just wanted to say that I agree with Indigo and DaveM - some parts were hard to watch, and the middle act did seem to go on a bit with the harlots. I didn't get the sense that Manon herself was manipulative at all last night - she was just being used. However, the quality of the dancing, particularly Alexander Campbell, was stunning. Maybe it's time for a bit of a re-think for the ballet, both the staging and how it is presented - though obviously we can't judge it from the moral perspective of today. I also agree with DaveM that being thrown around in a swamp is probably not the best approach if you're on your last legs!

Jacky

Edited by J_New
I tried to remove the second empty quote but failed!
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was not too keen on his view of Bonelli 'Peacock strutting ' I didn't notice it! As far as Indigo's comments are concerned, I think we must remember that Prevost's book was written at a time when views of women and prostitution were very different to those of today. Likewise Macmillan reflected views of his time. So by all means see what sort of interpretation a contemporary choreographer would give to the story, but hands off the Macmillan, which do many of us love for the superb choreography and the opportunities it gives to its interpreters.

 

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32 minutes ago, zxDaveM said:

Yes, the Francesca Hayward/Federico Bonelli pdd's were glorious; from the meeting pdd in the town square, to the bedroom pdd (the one done at galas) right through to the death one in the swamp - chin-on-chest as the jaw dropped. Claire Calvert and Alexander Campbell were also excellent as Lescaut and his mistress. The one in the swamp though - no wonder she dies the way she gets flung about - I'm sure any medics here on the forum will correct me if I'm wrong, but generally speaking someone who is close to death's door is rarely made better by being flung around in a swamp...

Have to say though, that I agree with 'Indigo' above with some of her comments. The general sleaziness of the whole scenario - from the rich taking their delights at the cost of the poor, ladies of the night selling their souls for a few coppers, the goings on in the goal once they arrive at their deportation 'home', creeps me out a bit. And that's before coming on to the pdt with M GM, Manon, and her brother or the 'passing around' of Manon as an objectified tropy. I appreciate that's the point, of love bursting above this level of sleaze and the temptation of wealth, but makes the scenes between those beautiful, glorious pdd's all the harder to watch at times. Glad I was there though, there was some truly wonderful dancing.

...but surely it's the contrast between the scenes that adds so much to our appreciation?  A ballet simply filled with pdt, however, glorious, would lack depth and drama.  However uncomfortable, 'the rich did take their delights at the cost of the poor and ladies of the night sold themselves'  - this is surely what the ballet is about?

 

I am in the camp that sees Manon as a female manipulator which is not to say I don't feel pity and horror at how she is treated.  I am not in favour of a new version of  this much loved work 'to reflect current thinking.'  Manon is what it is - a dark piece of thought provoking contrasts built on dramatic passion.

 

However, a new ballet by somebody of the stature of Pite would be welcome but I think she should start with a fresh slate.  If you take the depths out of Manon, the highs loose their lustre.  Good writing, whether it be a novel or in choreography gets it's drama from conflict and contrast.

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I'm not advocating any change - i was just saying what I liked, and didn't like, about what I saw last night. I'm finding that a lot about MacMillan's works generally. There are some I simply won't watch again, others I would happily watch every week.

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I have just been reading a book called “The Secret History of Georgian London” about the 18th and early 19th Century Georgian underworld, and, hard/uncomfortable these days though it may be to watch some parts of Manon (set in Paris though it is), the reality of the time was far sleazier and sad than even Macmillan portrays. The goings on in Manon were the norm (and worse), hard to read about and hard to watch. I suppose one could argue that if Macmillan was aiming at historical verisimilitude, he hit the nail on the head.

 

As an aside, read the book and you will never see Covent Garden and the surrounding areas in the same way again....

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1 hour ago, zxDaveM said:

Have to say though, that I agree with 'Indigo' above with some of her comments. The general sleaziness of the whole scenario - from the rich taking their delights at the cost of the poor, ladies of the night selling their souls for a few coppers, the goings on in the goal once they arrive at their deportation 'home', creeps me out a bit. And that's before coming on to the pdt with M GM, Manon, and her brother or the 'passing around' of Manon as an objectified trophy. I appreciate that's the point, of love bursting above this level of sleaze and the temptation of wealth, but makes the scenes between those beautiful, glorious pdd's all the harder to watch at times. Glad I was there though, there was some truly wonderful dancing.

 

The sensation you describe, Dave, is much that same I have with those unfortunate harlots in Mayerling ... only there it is much more enhanced for me in its distaste.  Still the PDDs are the defining framework of all these MacMillian pieces and happily he at least knew what he was about in terms of their construct.  One is grateful for that.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Many of us have taken issue with Macmillan's portrayal of prostitutes in a certain way many times.....so I don't even mention it any more, but I do agree Indigo, in some ways.

 

The point is not  that I don't think the subject should be used etc and it is nothing to do with the novel.  It is how Macmillan choreographs these scenes. I agree with Dave that moments are cringe-making- especially horrible old men chasing young girls around the stage, especially- the moment one of them is desperate to escape -and  find it very uncomfortable when some of the audience laugh -are led to laugh- at some of these scenes in the brothel. Macmillan's work is indeed, at times, titillating us - and I think it is very uncomfortable indeed.

But, noone is saying we change his choreography, -are they? - but, that we need some new ballets- I entirely agree with that and have said so recently- more new work please, and some by women please, because some of the attittudes incarnated by some in the rep- especially Macmillan but also Scarlett and others, in my view, have always been unpleasant and are becoming embarassing.

 

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1 hour ago, zxDaveM said:

 

Who are you getting to see Anna?

 

Cuthbertson and Clarke at the ROH, Dave - plus Lamb and Muntagirov at the cinema.   I find matinées easier from a pain point of view and wanted to see Cuthbertson last run but sadly she sustained that bad injury.   So looking forward to it but I'd love to see Bonelli too. 

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Would  just like to point out that Manon has been re-orchestrated before but the 'improvements' were ditched and we went back to the original, I suspect that will happen again.  I love Massenet and it's fun to source the music as you go along, Lucas pulled melodies from almost all Massenet's works and I find it gels very well.

 

I'm afraid I don't see Manon as manipulative at all, quite the opposite.  Someone else has condemned her to a convent until her brother spots her market value, but the character does share some similar traits  to Cécile de Volanges in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, I see her very much as a victim, it's not her fault she ends up dead.

 

A lot of changes have taken place since the ballet's premiere and changes in costume and so on haven't been for the better and it may be the only full length ballet that actually lost an entire scene.  One of the most pressing of problems is to do something with the corps de ballet in Act II, frankly their antics have to be reigned in as a matter of urgency, last night people were laughing in all the wrong places as the whores and customers distracted many in the audience with their idiocy.  The are simply going too far and someone should step in and tone things down.  The principals deserve better than being sabotaged by their colleagues.

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34 minutes ago, zxDaveM said:

I'm not advocating any change - i was just saying what I liked, and didn't like, about what I saw last night. I'm finding that a lot about MacMillan's works generally. There are some I simply won't watch again, others I would happily watch every week.

You raise an interesting issue.  The last time I saw Butterfly, an opera I especially love, I was uncomfortable but I also accepted that this questioning had, in a weird way, contributed to my enjoyment of the piece as high drama.  Much art makes us question the past and it can be hard.  The part in South Pacific where Mitzi Gaynor can’t accept her lovers children because they are the product of a liaison with an Asian woman is aLmost comical when viewed today.  I guess we just have to take things in the round, whilst recognising that examining attitudes from the past can only be healthy for the future.

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52 minutes ago, Mary said:

 

But, noone is saying we change his choreography, -are they? - but, that we need some new ballets- I entirely agree with that and have said so recently- more new work please, and some by women please, because some of the attittudes incarnated by some in the rep- especially Macmillan but also Scarlett and others, in my view, have always been unpleasant and are becoming embarassing.

 

 

I applaud your sentiment, Mary and in significant ways agree.  I do think if the Company had been/were able to dance - and the choreographers perhaps more readily exposed to-  the perspectives of other late 20th and 21st Century balletic masterworks- such as those you suggest inherited by Scarlett via MacMillian (who lest we forget did win the Kenneth MacMillian Choreographic Award) - perhaps the extremities mentioned might have been different. 

 

I think of the wonderful celebration of women in Ratmansky's Shostakovitch Trilogy - a full length evening so rich in its dramatic narrative or indeed his Pictures at an Exhibition which I find more theatrically intriguing every time I see it (although I would ditch the costumes).  I feel that these and others more wholly celebrating an sense of overall community would sit proudly next to the heights, say, of Woolf Works, Asphodel Meadows, Flight Pattern, A King Dances, Broken Wings or Yugen - much as certainly does the theatrical thrill of MacMillan's Concerto given the glorious scope of its own humane nobility.  

 

As is often pointed out to me by prisoners in my own dramatic work be it in England or other climbs the very meaning of 'narrative' today has evolved.  There are masters of course who we cherish because they defined dramatic tongues (e.g., Shakespeare, Balanchine, etc.).  We are used now to telescoping information in so many different creative ways.  The best examples, say, of television are a clear exemplar of this - as are the dedicated choreographic highlights.  It is an exciting creative time in which to live; to be involved in the ever shifting conversation.   

Edited by Bruce Wall
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27 minutes ago, Mary said:

 

But, noone is saying we change his choreography, -are they? - but, that we need some new ballets- I entirely agree with that and have said so recently- more new work please, and some by women please, because some of the attittudes incarnated by some in the rep- especially Macmillan but also Scarlett and others, in my view, have always been unpleasant and are becoming embarassing.

 

 

I doubt that would ever be allowed, by the owners of the pieces. Perhaps in the more distant future (probably long after I'm no longer for this world) there may be reworked pieces 'after' MacMillan/Scarlett as we have for Petipa works in the rep today - maybe? Such that the pdds preserved, in a reworked scenario? But I doubt anyone would dare (certainly not at the moment) ;)

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15 minutes ago, penelopesimpson said:

You raise an interesting issue.  The last time I saw Butterfly, an opera I especially love, I was uncomfortable but I also accepted that this questioning had, in a weird way, contributed to my enjoyment of the piece as high drama.  Much art makes us question the past and it can be hard.  The part in South Pacific where Mitzi Gaynor can’t accept her lovers children because they are the product of a liaison with an Asian woman is aLmost comical when viewed today.  I guess we just have to take things in the round, whilst recognising that examining attitudes from the past can only be healthy for the future.

 

Yes, that part in South Pacific was meant to be challenging at the time of its release - nowadays we largely can't see what the fuss was - though sadly, this sort of thinking not completely eliminated from the world. Despite that, I still love South Pacific, Dames and all!!

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I am sure it would not be allowed, and not sure I would want  it to be ...

But Mab raises the good point- anyway- how much of the business I especially objected to is not Macmillan at all, but later interpolations? I don't know  enough to say. Choreographic purity is always hard to establish isn't it, but I am sure many on the forum do know a lot about the difference between the first production-or the last one overseen by Macmillan- and this one.

I would be surprised though if the corps are really just improvising more and more business- would that really be allowed?

Edited by Mary
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30 minutes ago, MAB said:

Would  just like to point out that Manon has been re-orchestrated before but the 'improvements' were ditched and we went back to the original, I suspect that will happen again.  I love Massenet and it's fun to source the music as you go along, Lucas pulled melodies from almost all Massenet's works and I find it gels very well.

 

 

I’m not a great fan of the Martin Yates orchestration that the RB currently uses.  

 

The tunes were sourced by Hilda Gaunt and she should get a mention here (and plenty of credit) - Lucas did the arrangements but she did the legwork (so to speak).

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4 minutes ago, bangorballetboy said:

 

I’m not a great fan of the Martin Yates orchestration that the RB currently uses.  

 

 

I agree ... and I felt he did a disservice - in a similar vein - to the Minkus in the Acosta Don Q as well.  Often to my ear it felt drained.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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27 minutes ago, Mary said:

But Mab raises the good point- anyway- how much of the business I especially objected to is not Macmillan at all, but later interpolations?

I would be surprised though if the corps are really just improvising more and more business- would that really be allowed?

 

I saw Manon originally in 2000, and the next time in 2014 at the cinema.  I was amazed at how the Gaoler's actions were way, way more pronounced and displayed than originally in 2000.  So that scene must have been changed from the top, to fit in with the 'current climate'?  Maybe Lady MacMillan?  I would think that she has the last word with any change or 'enhancement'?  

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Maybe I'm being naive, but I have always thought that the ballet is masterful in the way it portrays Manon's innocent love that we see when she first meets De Grieux, then her apparent haste in being seduced by the riches that an older lover can offer, her near seduction by the Gaoler from which she is saved by DeGrieux and finally her love for him. She is an innocent who has been seduced by the society she lives in with the help of her unscrupulous brother and to my way of thinking the act II scenes make this very clear. 

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I'm not seeing this until next week, but the comments so far are interesting. I didn't like this ballet for a long time, precisely because it was so sleazy and unpleasant with no real compensating depth of characterisation to redeem it (as there is in Mayerling, for example, which is also obviously not a bed of roses). Manon herself seems to be greedy and manipulative and amoral, Des Grieux a bit feeble, and Lescaut just nasty and exploitative. And various other unpleasant characters. It's only in recent years that the sheer power and quality of the performances have won me over.

 

I don't know either the novel or the opera, so I don't know how much is unique to the ballet or how faithful the representations are to the sources. But I wouldn't necessarily assume that Manon is an innocent - she may be, but I don't see much in the ballet to suggest it. However I'll be interested to see the various interpretations in the next few weeks.

Edited by bridiem
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