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The Royal Ballet, Manon, Autumn 2014


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Only just got home but had to say what a sensational debut by Vadim; all the more so because he and Sarah had such limited rehearsal time because of Lauren's sad accident. All credit to both of them for such a brilliant performance, ably backed up by Valentine Zucchetti and Gary Avis as Mr GM. It left me feeling emotionally drained but dying to see them again. Unfortunately Vadim's next performance is this Thursday and I can only do weekends. I saw all 3 performances this weekend and all were excellent and memorable but for Vadim to do such an amazing performance on his debut was something really special. can't wait for Don Q!

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I can only endorse what everyone has already said about Muntagirov's debut - he was so very good, and worked rather well with Lamb at short(ish) notice. His addition to the roster is one of the best things to have happened to the RB recently. Feeling slightly giddy since I casually browsed the Roh site after today's performance, and lo and behold, there was a returned SCS tic for his second performance so I get to see him twice.

 

I also loved Luca Acri's beggar king, he is developing a really nice stage presence and his dancing seems both sharp and lively to me.

 

Watching today's performance and the Hayward debut earlier this week left me feeling really buoyed about the RB's near future.

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I enjoyed the performance yesterday, though was more impressed by Lamb than Vadim. He's a great dancer but I didn't feel he had a huge stage presence. It was a very affecting portrayal though, and I can imagine him being a great Romeo. Not sure about him in Don Q or Mayerling, but will be interesting to see him develop.

 

Was actually really impressed with Marquez on Saturday. She often gets overlooked but it was a fantastic performance. Mcrae was typically Mcrae

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I'm unable to see the Marquez/McRae cast this time round, but I too really enjoyed her portrayal of Manon when I saw it last time out. I always enjoy watching them dance together; they make a good partnership and each benefits from the other's differences in approach.

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At a recent Insight Evening on Manon Anthony Dowell explained that De Grieux was young, shy and inexperienced with women. Last Sunday afternoon Vadim Muntargirov captured that naiviety and hesitation exactly. He feels awkward with the girls who try to take his books and carefully moves his chair away from another group so that he can sit alone and not interact socially. Of course this is how Kenneth Macmillan conceived the character. Someone implied that he did make a big impression initially but he was simply being De Grieux. His first solo exhibited his strong technique, powerful and expressive upper body and beautiful leg extensions, his whole frame demonstrating the thrill that was surging through him as he sees this girl and dares to tell her how he feels.

 

As the ballet proceeds his character emerges strongly, both in his acting and his dancing. This was a quality performance. In fact it was compulsive viewing for me. I was almost loathe to look away in case I missed the many nuances that he packed into his character. He is a dancer whose technique is strong and sure. He immerses himself totally in the character to such an extent that he becomes the character. He moves through the exhilaration of first love to the bewilderment of having been deserted. His solo at Madame's is full of despair and then renewed hope. The audience felt his heartbreak.

 

Then his defence of his love when they arrive in Louisiana as he protects her from a new 'GM' and the injustice and anger he feels when sees  it happening AGAIN. This produced the most powerful scene potrayal of the killing of the Gaoler that I have seen in many years watching this ballet.

 

In Vadim Muntargirov we have a splendid dancer, able to fine tune all aspects of his craft to produce a fully rounded performance. What a joy he was to behold. Someone wondered what he would be like in Romeo. If you had been at the Albert Hall last June you would have discovered that he can be superlative in that role as well. Equally he can handle the many facets required in contrasting roles like Conrad  and Apollo.

 

Welcome to the Royal Ballet Vadim, we are pleased that you are here. Watch out to see how he handles Ashton in the coming mixed bill.

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Muntagirov made an auspicious debut as De Grieux one of the few dancers for whom the first solo presents no problems. Technically assured throughout with all sorts of little detail that I have half thought I had imagined. But no they been there all the time waiting for the right dancer to come along and show them.A bit like Hayward who reminded me of Sibley at several points but especially at the beginning of Act 2  because of the quality of the her movement and in particular the quality of her epaulement.  

 

At the present time I think that Lamb and Pennefather have the edge over Muntagirov and Lamb. Pennefather was not born to dance this choreography in the way that Muntagirov was, but he copes with the choreography extraordinarily well .However It is the way that Lamb and he respond to each other that makes them so special in these roles

 

All four dancers seem able to submerge themselves in the characters that they portray.They seem to move as they do not because they have been taught to do so but because they must. I am afraid that while I could admire Nunez's dancing, for me she was always Nunez dancing Manon, rather than Manon.

 

Zucchetti's made a fine, venal Lescaut but while I couldn't fault Choe as far as the steps she danced were concerned as a character  she remained a blank.Does no one ever go to the back of the stalls up into the Amphitheatre to gauge how well a performance travels across the footlights into the auditorium?

 

Something has gone seriously wrong in Act 2 where Lescaut and his mistress now perform their pas de deux as broad comedy bordering on slapstick.I don't recall David Wall,Stephen Jeffries, Michael Coleman  or Anthony Dowell slipping and slithering about so much in an effort to show that they were drunk.They were far more subtle and as a result this section did not stand out

from the rest of the scene in which it appears. Today it seems to come from a totally different ballet, if indeed it belongs in a ballet at all.

 

I don't find the changes that Lady M has authorised to the ballet score or to the costumes are any improvement.Does she get her ideas from beyond the grave or are they all her own ? Why does she feel the need to tinker with things that do not need changing while ignoring things that do? She could ask someone to sort out the drunken pas de deux and the sword fight in Act 2. According to my viewing of it neither De Grieux and nor Lescaut should survive it and the only reason that they do is because the ballet is not over. 

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Thanks to Nevsky and Floss for such vivid descriptions of this cast-how I wish I had seen Muntagirov. I am loooking forward to seeing him in Symphonic Variations soon though. I first saw him in the background of the T Rojo programme on Swan Lake and immediately  thought- Hello! Here  is a very beautiful dancer! -

 

I heartily agree with everyone who has rejoiced at his presence in the RB.

 

It is a good run of interesting casts for Manon-even if not all are completely successful, it is always a luxury to see new pairings and compare them, is it not, and good for the dancers to get the chance.

 

Yes, that drunken dance should surely  not be performed as jolly knockabout fun...because it makes no sense to invite the audience  to laugh in merry fashion at Lescaut -who is far from a clown:  he is a vicious,  amoral thug.

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I agree on Yuhui Choe as Lescaut's mistresses, she was a bit too nice I thought, I always thought Lescaut's mistress was a lot more savvy, a proper tart. 

 

nevsky- such eloquent words, which I agree with x100 felt really special to see Muntagirov, he dances from his fingers to his toes, I too just had to give my full attention and in the final PDD in the swamp was so emotional and just amazing I think I nearly cried! Just felt really lucky to see such a fine debut.

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This was my 3rd Manon and in terms of the principal pairing, I felt the most disappointing. There was no chemistry between Acosta and Osipova, so it didn't move me at all, I'm afraid. I thought her interpretation of Manon was interesting - regret at leaving Des Grieux etc and she certainly threw herself into the role.  But it needs the pairing to work and for me, it didn't. People around me were cheering at the end so there will be different opinions.

 

I enjoyed Thiago Soares return as Lescaut as he brings so much detail to the part and Clare Calvert's mistress was great fun. Gary Avis was exemplarily horrible as the Gaoler, but I'd like to see him in more Monsieur GM performances

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What is it they say in NY:  'Meh'.  That about sums last night up for me, I'm afraid.  I am an Osipova fan but will have to wait to judge her Manon until I can see her opposite someone else where, as suggested immediately above, a relationship can be better forged.  Without that central appeal MacMillian's work (at least in this instance) can appear intermittently both shallow and hollow. I, myself, think I could watch MacMillan's Concerto repeatedly and found myself on occasion last night desperately wishing that it was on a loop aside the equally admirable Ratmansky take created for Wendy Whelan and NYCB.  Somehow that would - for me - have appeared less repetitive especially when driven by Yates most unfortunate re-orchestration.  This work needs that nub of personality mixed with a dedicated spontaneity and a consistent legato line to not only work but catch fire.  This was my second Manon of this (as far as I'm concerned) overlong stint of them, and it did nothing but buoy the remembrance of my joy in the extraordinary debut of Francesca Hayward.  Her Manon's entry into the second act ALONE was worth the price of any ticket.  For me that would not have been true last night  That said Osipova's second act solo was entrancing in its heady mixture of willfulness and doubt; each etched through the accouterments of those divine feet with which she has been blessed. 

 

For the record, this performance was dedicated to Dame V. Duffield and her support through the Clore Duffield Foundation for the Royal Ballet.  The audience groaned as K. O'Hare came out to make the announcement - all booted and three-buttoned-up suited - thinking that there was to be a cast change announcement.  (How in one instance I wish there had been.)  He delivered a relatively simple note of thanks in his dedication and I, myself, only found it strange - especially given ALL the money that Duffield has given to the RB over the years - and all of her noted interaction - that it had to be read so meticulously from off a written text.  Still, the point was made.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Osipova was absolutely fantastic, danced sublimely, with great characterisation and passion.  But the evening fell absolutely flat.  I never liked the second act and it really dragged last night.  The “funny” bits were tacky, the dramatic bits felt boring and fluffy.  Carlos lost me with his squeaky shoes and after that I just couldn’t take his feelings for Manon seriously.  There were some wonderful moments, but one dancer does not make it an evening.

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I must disagree vehemently about last night's performance, I thought Osipova was superb in the role and that Acosta give her the most sympathetic support.

 

The first Manon ever was an overpriced gala, so I gave it a miss and went the following night with the same cast.  I won't say I've seen every RB cast since, but I've probable seen most,   Only a small number have been outstanding:  Osipova is one of them.

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I had the impression last night that the performance had divided opinions amongst ballet regulars and so it seems here. Much as thought Osipova's interpretation unique and thought provoking and her dancing wonderful, the evening fell completely flat. I can only put that down to something in the emotional connection between Osipova and Acosta that didn't touch me. The drunk scene was as tired as it has been in every performance of this run although I very much liked Clare Calvert's mistress. 

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I have to agree with MAB. It is a shame that Carlos is well past his prime and I too would love to see Osipova paired with Muntagirov, but please don't let that take away from what a superlative and very real Manion Osipova treated us to last night. Her characterisation and the quality of her dancing are both truly outstanding. Kudos also for some excellent character performances, especially Thiago Soares' Lescaut and the wonderful Gary Avis who was a truly vile Gaoler.

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I too loved Osipova's performance.  I have never seen Manon danced with so much empathy, and such a different approach.  This Manon truly loved DG from start to finish;  there was never any doubt as there is in most other interpretations.  We got a real sense of a couple in love, and her feeling bitter and resentful being pushed into whoring herself out by her nasty brother, who convinces her that this is the only way they will ever be rich (and he was probably right, sadly).  Her distress at leaving DG's room on the arm of GM was plain for all to see;  the way she picked up the feather pen and looked at it wistfully, the way she kept looking into the wings as if she wished he'd come back to save her, the total lack of gloating when she received the coat and the necklace....she looked slightly shocked and almost guilty to keep them.  This feeling of guilt carries on into Act 2, where you know she is never enjoying GM's company, or hardly even pretending to.  There are quite a few instances where she recoils from his touch, and I noticed that when she is supposed to be leaving with him before she is alone with DG in that party scene she more or less pushes him out the door, instead of just stepping back to remain in the room surreptitiously.  This Manon never revels in her sexuality, never delights in her discovery that she turns the old men on;  who knows, maybe she hasn't even noticed.  Throughout that party scene she keeps an eye on DG  the whole time, and when he picks her up in the scene where she is being passed around, instead of kicking her feet to be put down like the other Manons do, she stays in his arms as long as she can without arousing suspicion.  In the final pdd you get the feeling that she is very ill but fighting to stay alive because she doesn't want to leave DG;  I found this pdd incredibly passionate and don't quite see how it can be called 'flat'....I loved her silent screams of mental and physical anguish;  I have never seen that before in that pdd. 

 

OK, so Carlos isn't, at 40, what he once was, but he is an excellent, experienced partner and I thought there was a lot of passion between them, and understanding.  Carlos is not a natural actor, but there was something emanating from deep down that I felt connected with Osipova, and she with him. 

 

Great to see Thiago back onstage, and doing a fine job as Lescaut.  Claire Calvert was a nice mistress, but for me no-one gets her like Laura Morera does.  The drunk scene doesn't even make me crack a smile anymore, let alone laugh.   Lovely ensemble dancing from the whole company, too. 

 

We all knew Osipova would approach this role in her own way, and she certainly has and, as far as I am concerned, very successfully and believably.  How wonderful to see it done so differently.  For me, the fact that Manon is deeply in love with DG the whole way through really adds to the sadness of the tragic denouement, giving it a depth I haven't seen before.

 

Isn't it interesting how different people have totally different perceptions of the same performance?! 

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I haven't seen any of the current run of Manons, but I am interested in the way that Osipova chose to play the part.

 

Surely the whole point is that the character is well aware of the effect she has on the males?  She might be talked into taking advantage of it by her brother, but she embraces the opportunity whole heartedly, surely?  Otherwise, doesn't she just become an innocent victim, driven into prostitution by her brother? 

 

And for me, in order for the whole performance to work, she cannot be be portrayed in that way. 

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Well it worked for me.  It was just a different take on it;  as I said above, with Manon being a victim it makes the whole thing more tragic and sad.  When portayed as a tart or courtesan who is enjoying herself, I tend to think 'serves you right' at the end, whereas here I didn't....and for me, that is when the tragedy works.  I have never felt sad for a Manon before last night, and it gave the whole ballet (not one of my favourite) a whole different feel.

 

This was the same feeling I had the first time I saw Thiago Soares dance Rudolf in Mayerling;  I had never felt sorry for Rudolf before, but the way Thiago portrayed him I was weeping buckets of pity for him at the end.

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I thought Osipova was absolutely wonderful last night. I didn't think she was just playing the part of Manon, she was Manon! Like her Giselle earlier in the year, it is an evening i will never forget.

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I just want to say that I WHOLLY concur with Sim's beautifully etched and detailed first paragraph in her post no. 91 above.  The detail in Osipova's fine performance was both rife and ripe.  I certainly didn't mean to suggest otherwise.  It was simply - from my own perspective - that she didn't get the support last night that I felt she wholly deserved in terms of its overall and, yes, rightful fulfillment.  

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Osipova's dancing could not be faulted but for me she was Osipova dancing Manon rather than Manon whether this was because she was dancing the role with Acosta as her De Grieux we shall, no doubt find out at subsequent revivals with more responsive partners. It would be interesting to know who decided on this particular pairing. Acosta is a man of many talents but acting has never been his strong point.and as his dancing skills wane he can't fall back on his ability to portray a character to help him through the evening.                                                                                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                                  

I don't think that the way in which the pas de deux seem increasingly to be broken up into sections with held poses  rather than being danced through with a sense of urgency helps. At the time that this ballet was made it used to be said that you only noticed the steps if someone made a mistake.Last night I was more aware of the steps than I should have been in a ballet about love, passion, avarice and death,

                                                                                                                                                                                                           

I am afraid that I think that the role of Lescaut requires more than a lot of empty gesticulation  and it would have been nice if

Soares could have brought himself to do the little beats at the end of the first solo which he seems to treat as an optional extra. 

Soares is yet another Lescaut who treats the drunken pas de deux as broad comedy and kills it stone dead.Perhaps all aspiring Lescauts need to be reminded that the originator of the role was perhaps the finest partner that the company had at the time and that Wall and Mason were amusing  in this pas because they performed it with total seriousness and split second timing.As currently played it looks like Cranko on an off day. But it seems that  we are more likely to get costume changes than any attempt to tidy up the way that this pas is performed.                    

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Osipova's dancing could not be faulted but for me she was Osipova dancing Manon rather than Manon                   

 

I always prefer it when artists bring their interpretations and personality to the part.  It doesn't always pay off, but you always treasure the moment when it does.  I definitely saw and felt her as Manon albeit a different kind of Manon.  The fact she gave me a new perspective on the character is the reason I go to the theatre.  I'm seeing this cast again and am intrigued to know how I'll feel about it on my second viewing. 

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Nine years ago, I interviewed the wonderful David Wall for ballet.co.uk.  He has some very interesting comments about the drunk scene, and Lescaut's character which was created on him (as well as loads of other interesting comments in general about all kinds of things!).  Here is a link to the interview:

 

http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_05/jun05/interview_wall.htm

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FLOSS wonders about the pairing with Acosta, but I'm told his partnering skills within the company are considered second to none, also weren't they dancing at the Bolshoi at the same time?  Sorry he didn't do it for you, but over the years I've seen some awful DG's, and by comparison Acosta was exemplary.

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