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The Royal Ballet, Manon, Autumn 2014


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Concur that Hayward's was a very special debut; ripe with enormous promise.  (The best kind methinks.)  Whilst I generally prefer my MacMillan early, Hayward held the focus of this mature piece throughout (a ripe 40 now rippling under the waterlogged re-orchestration of a certain Maestro Yates who also conducted) with a perfume redolent of a young Sofia Loren, mixing a defining innocence with an exotic sensuality that was never knowing in and of itself.  (That is a special gift seeded to few.  Certainly it escaped Bussell.)  The fact that her Des Grieux's (E. Watson) classical technique was so rough hewn only made his depiction - one physically looking for all the world like a young (albeit wearied) Leslie Howard - all that much more poignant somehow.  This was a girl clearly never ever meant for a convent and yet her arcadian naivete was never sullied nor broken until faced with her brother's ugly demise.  Agree Alexander Campbell was simply phenomenal in his majestically detailed etching of that role as was Thomas Whitehead's portrayal of a monumentally monstrous Monsieur G.M.  It was at the juncture of Lescault's death that Hayward's Manon suddenly lost her innocence.  Her will to live was stripped in his final bloodied turn.  Her game was proverbially up.  It parried for me that moment when Hedda Gabler sees her husband run to Thea to sort out Loveborg's genius whilst she is left to face the frightening prospect of Judge Brack alone.  Hayward's final act is deservedly absent in mind frame once the silent axe has sluiced.  She now hears in vacuum.  If Hayward's Manon doesn't yet have the instinctive freedom of, say, a Sibley or Guillem in her final swamp swim one feels buoyed by the prospect that it will.  Undoubtedly it WILL.  I adored the fact that she looked so refreshed as the curtain rose after the matinee's demise to the heady screams of a small but adoring crowd.  "I know what I have to do," her enchantingly relaxed smile telegraphed as the 'ERs' once more coincided, 'and I'm going to love every minute of doing it.'  T'was a job well done, Girl.  Bless you.   

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Although not a favourite ballet of mine (too much passing), Manon contains some of my favourite choreography, not just in the justly celebrated duets, but in the sad dance of the fallen women chasing lost dreams and the astonishing sequence in Act 2 where Manon is lifted by the men in thrall to her yet also manipulating her in every sense. Although memory is haunted by Sibley's arms and Penney's legs, literally embodied in the choreography, Francesca Hayward, in an astonishingly assured debut, here brought out something I'd never noticed before. At the risk of seemingly indelicate. It was as if she was consciously mirroring with her lifted leg the effect she kmowingly enjoyed creating on those who both supported and manipulated her. If nothing else was quite so vivid, she also brought out the wilful, even spiteful side to Manon's character more than I'd seen elsewhere and danced throughout with ease and confidence. There were some little slips (including forgetting to take the Old Gentleman's Bag to Paris) but those are insignificant given the tremendous achievement. I am sure she will find more projection and variety as her confidence grows but full marks to Kevin O'Hare for having the prescience to cast her. Her entrance in Act 2 brought tears to my eyes (and I'm damp even as I recall that now) as without the inevitable tension of needing to dance a role for the first time her promenade showed the glamour and seductuve authority already present within this slip of a girl. Edward Watson partnered her well and supportively. I thought he started slowly and (memories again) the astonishing purity of his high arabesque so vividly recalled from a performance with Mara Galeazzi around four years ago really wasn't thefe until the middle of Act 2. For me, the most complete performance came from Alexander Campbell with a combination of charm and malevolence allied to impressively virtuoso dancing that reminded one that Lescaut was created by a top principal David Wall (and later danced by others such as Anthony Dowell and Stephen Jeffries. Soared seems out of it this time but Acosta is giving it a go which could be interesting and it really benefits from dance acting at that level. Campbell is still a First Soloist but there was nothing lacking at all here). The Mistress was also written for a major principal with technical strength (Mason and then Collier I think) and, not for the first time, I wasn't entirely convinced that Helen Crawford was quite on top of things. I know she is coming back from injury and have no wish to be overly critical. Thomas Whitehead was wonderful as GM (another debut?) with authority and a certain sinister sensuality too and Genesia Rosato remains one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen on stage. It was a good afternoon and I'm very pleased that inspired by The Sunday Times I yielded to impulse.

Edited by Jamesrhblack
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I can't recall seeing a better debut. Also interesting for me is that her interpretation didn't remind me of anyone else I'd seen (Bruce has put it very well "mixing a defining innocence with an exotic sensuality") She'd clearly thought about how she wanted to portray Manon and to have the confidence to do that in your debut and bring it off is quite something. Can't agree about Alexander Campbell: yes his dancing is crisp and he energises the stage early on but I thought his drunk scene way OTT never was it truer that "less is more"  Bennet Gartside's excellent Gaoler being a perfect example. 

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Well, I'm a Manon 'newbie'. Is Manon supposed to be 'good' but is corrupted by those around her / her need and desire for financial security? Or is she venal from the start and merely toys with Des Grieux' affections?

 

 

 

Edit: I've transferred this and the following posts from the Ashton/MacMillan/America thread here: http://www.balletcoforum.com/index.php?/topic/7922-ashton-macmillan-and-their-american-reputations/

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Aileen, there's a reason Manon's parents are sending her to a convent, and it's not because she's a modest little violet who might be corrupted by the World: it's an attempt to protect her from herself, because they know their daughter and can see where her nature is going to take her if they don't.  Who knows, if Lescaut and Des Grieux hadn't interfered, it might have worked :)

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There's a lot of Manon-related discussion in the thread on Ashton, MacMillan and their reception in America here: http://www.balletcoforum.com/index.php?/topic/7922-ashton-macmillan-and-their-american-reputations/page-2
so I've attempted to copy it into this thread as well.
 

However highly regarded Manon is today it did not receive universal acclaim at the start. Mary Clarke wrote words to the effect  that all you needed to know was that Manon was a slut and Des Grieux a fool. When Arlene Croce wrote about it she complained that MacMillan had filled the work with dance but that apart from a few scenes he had failed to capture the essence of the book or tell enough of the story.She singled out the five pas de deux for Manon and Des Grieux for particular criticism because she thought that they were all too similar and that MacMillan had failed to portray DesGrieux being corrupted by Manon .In her opinion De Grieux remained a sweet boy until the end of the ballet.

 

Anyone interested in the initial response to MacMillan's Manon should read Arlene Croce's criticism of the ballet which is reprinted in Writing in the Dark.

 

 

Getting back to Manon, I think the playing down of Des Grieux's religious convictions robs the story of much of it's impact.  Anyone who saw Anna Netrebko seduce Vittorio Grigolo away from the altar in the Massenet opera at ROH a couple of years ago will know exactly what I'm getting at.

 

 

Do we know that Des Grieux *has* religious convictions?  I can't remember it from the novel, which I haven't read for a few years now - although as I've pointed out before MacMillan's ballet has so little to do with the novel that it's barely recognisable.  Sure, DG is a divinity student, but I thought that back in that time in French society that didn't necessarily mean much, and that they could be as corrupt as the next man.

 

 

I think this is one of the problems I have with Manon. I started to find the scenes outside the big pdds a bit too long even if its for the sake of plot and character development, and the violence to women very tiring - maybe I'm becoming more impatient and prudish with age! Much as I admire the naturalism of the RB style, I can see than in retrospect that I went to Manon to see the performances of the dancers, that is Cojocaru-Kobborg, Rojo-Acosta, Guillem-Cope, rather than the ballet itself. As these dancers have dropped away from the RB, I've seen the ballet much less frequently and I've decided to miss this run (though I'm considering the live relay just to see Nunez).

 

 

Good point Alison.  Aramis in The Three Musketeers is also studying to become a cleric but he happily joins in with his companions rowdy and sometimes licentious behaviour.

 

Also,, I'm pretty sure that Macmillan decided that 'his' Des Grieux is a student of poetry, not religion.  As pointed out by others, Macmillan's Manon is only very loosely based on the book.

 

 

I have to agree with this, Macmillan's love of brothels and harlots can be very irritating and sometimes downright silly: I hate the Keystone Cops routine when the brothel in Mayerling is raided.  As a feminist I don't find the subjugation of women entertaining and the rape scene in Manon is hard to watch.

 

Like Sunrise, I often went to see Manon in the past just for the wonderful pairings of great dramatic dancers.  In this run I have only booked to see dancers new to the role and discover if their interpretations match up to those of the past.  Sadly, I won't get to see the one I was really interested in: Lauren's Manon.

 
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I did. Morera plays Manon much more innocently (especially in act 1) than anyone else I've seen, which I think is probably not true to the book but did make for an emotional performance. I felt very sad about what her society had turned her life into and it did make me think a lot about the different ways the role can be looked at. Is Manon a victim of the people around her? Or does she bring her problems on herself? Morera I think played it more towards the victim side of things (and I do think Manon is a victim of an unjust society in which there is a huge gap between rich and poor) - but I think, in the book at least, she also contributes to her own downfall because she's naive and thoughtless as well as selfish - and that's the way other dancers have portrayed the role. I didn't really get that so much from Morera - I felt she was very trusting of her brother and the people around her, and naively thought she could go off with GM and then go back to Des Grieux and there would be no bad consequences for anyone. That's not to say that was a bad way to play it - as I said, it did make me feel very sad at the end (and also want to call her parents and tell them she was getting in with a bad crowd!).

 

Anyway, Morera threw herself into the pas de deux and I could really see the development of her feelings for Des Grieux from their first meeting all the way through to the end of the act 3 pas de deux.

 

Kish danced beautifully but I'm afraid I didn't really believe Des Grieux cared much about Manon or what was happening. It was a bit 'quiet' I think, if that makes sense.

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I love Morera's portrayal of Manon.  I don't have time to write much now, but she really does develop and change totally believably as the character from the beginning right through to her last breath.  She takes me on an emotional journey that I can become immersed in and react to when the ballet is over.  Her final pdd is so incredibly moving;  she is really dead before it starts, and like the crypt scene in Juliet the male dancer is more or less dancing with a corpse as soon as the pdd starts;  the dangling arms, the look of hopelessness and doom, the desperation....the eyes remaining open when she has died....it all made for a very visceral ending to the ballet.  Kish didn't do anything wrong, but I wish she could have danced this with someone who has physical as well as emotional passion. 

 

And speaking of Juliet....I have said it before and I will say it again....why on EARTH has Morera never been given this role?  She is such a good MacMillan interpreter and I would love, just love, to see her do it. Not to mention Mary Vetsera, which she has never danced either....Kevin O'Hare, please take note for next time.

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I'm not sure whether I was just getting Manon-ed out after 4 shows in under a week, which is quite possible, but last night's performance didn't really grab me.  Maybe it was because I was one of the fortunate few who'd seen Morera's one show with Bonelli last time around, but it really didn't have the same impact for me this time.

 

Now that World Ballet Day is out of the way, I also ought to say a few words about the Hayward/Watson cast on the Tuesday matinee.  I wasn't sure quite how much I should expect from Hayward on her debut - after all, the lead in a 3-act ballet is a major step up from Rhapsody - but my goodness she certainly delivered, in a very capricious Manon - no wonder her Des Grieux was confused by her frequent changes of mood.  The first scene was, I wouldn't say tentative, but perhaps not yet full-throttle, but by the time they got to the bedroom scene they were very much in sync, and it showed, in what I think must have been one of the most delightful bedroom pas de deux I've seen.  It was certainly greeted by tremendous applause.  Des Grieux can be a pretty bland role (I remember once, in the middle of the last decade, wondering whether even Ed Watson would be able to make anything interesting of it.  More fool me ;)), but Watson managed to break my heart, first with his anguished solo at Madame's, where he again managed to extract more emotion from the steps than I would have believed possible, and later on in the second bedroom scene.  I was, however, less convinced by his portrayal of Des Grieux as a young man who is relatively at home in the demi-monde: surely a major part of his character (and indeed it is his name which features first in the full title of the novel) is the unsullied, upstanding young man from a good family (he *is* a Chevalier, after all) who is corrupted by his love for Manon, finally cheating and committing murder for her.  If he's already comfortable in that world, surely that undermines his character's journey through the ballet?  I think I'm also in agreement with annamk's comments about Alexander Campbell's Lescaut: although I had a restricted-view seat for Act II, realised I would miss a fair amount of his dancing and decided to concentrate on the other characters instead, I had thought at his debut at the weekend that he was over-egging the "drunk" scene.

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Alison, I was also one of the fortunate few to have seen Laura's performance with Bonelli. She totally bowled me over that first time, and nothing is ever the same, no matter how wonderful, when you see it again; there is nothing like the first time when it is great: you don't know what to expect, and if it does bowl you over it has even more impact. I think that Laura and Federico make an excellent partnership (think of their Onegin), which is also why, perhaps, it had more impact on you the first time round.

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Laura Morera was the first Manon I ever saw and her reading is still the most profoundly moving for me. The work always seems more essentially focused on power and exploitation than on romantic love, and on Wednesday Morera's Act 2 Manon seemed mesmerised by the power of her own allure, dancing as if in a glorious daze.

 

Sim has described Morera's Act 3 Manon so perfectly. I think she makes the final transformation simply devastating. Disturbing as the gaoler scene always is, Morera and Gartside subtly make its horror more vivid than others I've seen.

 

I'd be interested to know other people's views on memorable Des Grieux interpretations over the years. I feel I've never seen this role made definitive, but I didn't see any pre-2008 performances!

Edited by Josephine
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Josephine....like the character of Manon, that of Des Grieux is open to interpretation (within reason!) so for me it is hard to say what would make a definitive exponent of this role. Having said which, for me, Johan Kobborg is way up there, as is Alina's Manon; their partnership in this ballet took physical, dramatic and emotional risks the like of which I haven't seen before or since, and probably won't for a very long time. And it worked...oh how it worked!!

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The burning question of the entire production :D, of course, is: have the Gaoler's breeches changed?  They look rather looser than they used to, I think, when they were more like thick ballet tights.  It's been bugging me since the first night.

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The burning question of the entire production :D, of course, is: have the Gaoler's breeches changed?  They look rather looser than they used to, I think, when they were more like thick ballet tights.  It's been bugging me since the first night.

Yes, he now has trousers and I thoroughly dislike them. They bunch around the knee and look out of place, particularly as the soldiers and other male "dancer" roles are in tights.

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In my opinion this afternoon's performance of Manon with Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov was pitch perfect - the best reading I have ever seen. They both have open faces that project what they are feeling and bodies that use their solid technique to tell the story. Vadim developed his character through the first act from a shy approach to Manon to a full on mutual physical attraction. I found myself in the second act drawn into observing him observing Manon and her newly found riches, and later really understood the argument that arose between them about discarding the diamond bracelet. I do hope that their partnership will be nurtured - they look great together.

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Yes, he now has trousers and I thoroughly dislike them. They bunch around the knee and look out of place, particularly as the soldiers and other male "dancer" roles are in tights.

 

One of the wearers of the new breeches has vouchsafed that Deborah MacMillan requested the change. It appears that you are in good company BBB in thinking that they look out of place when the other male dancers at the port remain in white tights.

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Vadim Muntagirov was simply amazing this afternoon. The role of Des Grieux suits his beautiful dancing perfectly and, as GailR has said above, his characterisation was spot on. I felt, perhaps for the time time, that I was seeing the story of Manon unfold though his eyes. What a treat!

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I also saw today's performance and agree that Vadim was very good, as was Sarah, although I'm not sure that the partnership would work as well in a different ballet. The temperature between them hotted up as the ballet progressed and they really threw themselves into the last pdd.

 

This was the first time that I had seen Manon and I rather agree with an earlier poster about the limitations of the choreography. Once you strip out the pdds there is relatively little of interest. The dance when Manon is passed around at the party (which is very similar to the one in the brothel in Mayerling) is good and the dance off the female convicts is very affecting but, apart from these, the dancing for all but the two leads is quite dull. I wasn't keen on Des Grieux's fussy (and fiendishly difficult looking) solos either. Macmillan seems to have been obsessed by the seedy side of life, and today I found the subject matter, particularly the portrayal of the happy hookers (who so enjoyed their lives - not), rather uncomfortable. As for the character of Manon, my reading of her is that she revels in the power that she has over men, including Des Grieux, and that it is her greed in wanting to have both love and riches which leads to her downfall and his ruin.

 

On a seating point, having paid a fair amount of money to sit in the stalls I wasn't best pleased to find that I couldn't see very well due to the fact that the seats are not really 'staggered'; the woman in front of me wasn't even particularly tall. Annoying. I was sitting in row H.

Edited by aileen
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Utterly loved Vadim's debut today as Des Grieux and thought the partnership with Sarah Lamb was emotionally heartfelt. Lamb was exquisite and brilliant as Manon - the expressions she gave throughout were incredible. How can anyone be that emotional about being given a fur coat? - but she was!!!

 

Vadim said in an interview recently that he was looking forward to some big acting roles with the Royal Ballet and my goodness, in my view he delivered today and this really bodes well for him in future dramatic roles - he is mesmerizing and has incredible presence.

 

I cried more than I have done for many years at a ballet and started with the Act 1 pdd...... The music soared, The rest of the cast this afternoon were fantastic, particularly Valentino Zucchetti as Lescaut and Luca Acri as Chief Beggar. Then there was Gary Avis as Mr GM: so brilliantly acted my flesh crawled at his lechery!!

 

Manon is a very uncomfortable story in many ways, but for me, Macmillan at his finest. And today's performance one of the best I have seen over the years. Can't wait to see Vadim in more roles.

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Wow is all I can say for the Royal Ballet in 'Manon'.

 

Vadim Muntagirov is such a beautiful dancer, amazing lines, a dreamy Des Grieux, just couldn't take my eyes him, so magnetic! Sarah Lamb was brilliant as Manon, Valentino Zucchetti made for an excellent untrustworthy Lescaut and Gary Avis makes for a wonderfully sleazy Monsieur G.M. 

 

Music was sublime, costumes gorgeous.

 

Stood outside the stage door and got Vadim Muntagirov, Gary Avis, Yuhui Choe and Melissa Hamilton to sign my ballet programme, which was so cool!

 

Wish I could watch it all again  :D

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Wow....thanks everyone.  Really looking forward to seeing Vadim and Sarah later this week....but first, Osipova and Acosta on Tuesday;  I will be fascinated to see what she makes of Manon!

 

And I agree about the Gaoler's new britches;  I don't like them at all and they hide some of the horror of what he does to Manon.  Maybe that is the point of them, but I think some of the drama is lost.

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