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English National Ballet’s MANON Review

English National Ballet’s MANON Review

Arriving at the beautiful Opera House in Manchester, you can’t help but notice that the Grade II listed building is perfect for hosting such an opulent and decadent production such as Manon, with it’s hunters green upholstery and gold brocade accents. It truely sets the scene for the ensuing scenes of early 18th century France.

Kenneth MacMillan’s production premiered in 1974 and uses scores by Jules Massenet, although not from his Opera, rather using his other well know works. Manon is based on the novel, Manon Lescaut, by Abbe Prevost. The novel was actually banned in France at the time due to its scandalous, controversial and explicit details! It did however prove to be incredibly popular, with pirate copies being widely distributed. I wonder what they would have thought to 50 Shades?!

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English National Ballet Manon – Laurent Liotardo

The curtain rises on ACT 1 to unveil a scene at The Courtyard at the Inn. We are immediately drawn to the differences in the classes. The present folk are disheveled and dirty, dressed in rags, with their hearty and robust allegro and vigorous, almost out of control pirouettes. They convey a light hearted, fun filled demeanour. This is in stark contrast to the gentry and aristocrats who also visit the Inn. Their costumes of rich, heavy embroidered velvets, corsets, frills and pleats, adds to their grandeur presence. Such restrictive clothing exaggerates their straight, nose in the air posture. Their choreography was bold and regal, proudly displaying like peacocks but always maintaining absolute control and pose. We are introduced to Lescaut  who is awaiting the arrival of his sister Manon, before her departure to a convent. Lescaut – played by Jefferey Ciriotis with his good friend Des Grieux – Joseph Caley , a penniless student. Manon’s arrival attracts the attention of everyone, including that of weathly Monsieur GM – James Streeter

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Jeffrey Cirio in Manon – Laurent Liotardo

Manon – Alina Cjocaru – and Des Grieux  have a chance meeting and it’s love at first sight. At first Manon is coy but relents to her feelings. The pas de deux has a beautiful quality to it. The choreography is light and fluid with seemingly gravity defying lifts, echoing those wonderful feelings of walking on air and butterflies experienced with a new relationship. They hatch a plan to run away to Paris together. Whilst Des Grieux goes to post a letter to his uncle, Lescaut arrives with Monsieur, who has promised Manon to him for a tidy sum. Initially Manon  resists Monsieur’s advances but she is easily swayed by gifts or fur coats and diamonds. The pas de trois between these 3 characters is wonderfully creative. Manon is passed between the 2 men, like a toy. She snakes her way around Monsieur with imaginative lifts. It is clear that Monsieur sees her as a trophy, something to be glorified and lusted over. he displays infatuation more than love and Manon enjoys the power she yeilds over him, using it to her advantage. Lescaut is compliant and convinces his sister to leave with Monsieur. She looks back one last time before being escorted away.

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Alina Cojocaru and Joseph Caley in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

ACT 2 opens on a a party held at a house of ill repute (where prostitutes can be found if you’re unaware of that term). The music is playful and energetic which mirrors the suggestive and coquettish nature of the ‘ladies’ dancing for the highest bidder. We see Manon, draped in more finery, and Monsieur. This scene includes surprising comedic antics, the audience actually laughing out loud at points. The skill and strength displayed by Jeffrey Cirio is astonishing! To be able to dance as if under the influence of alcohol, stumbling and swaying, whilst still maintaining enough control to be able to lift your partner above your head is highly commendable! Love striken Des Grieux arrives, distraught by the betrayal. Manon is dancing for Monsieur. She sees Des Grieux, but refuses to make eye contact with him, denying her true feelings, but love creeps in, and she begins to flirt and dance for Des Grieux when Monsieur isn’t looking. She’s tempted by more gifts of diamonds but ultimately choses love over money and runs to Des Grieux. A fight breaks out. Swords are brandished. The scene is beautifully lit, casting the shadows off the dual on the backdrop. The lovers flee and plan to leave for Paris. They argue over taking the diamond braclet Monsieur gave, but agree to leave it behind. Monsieur tracks them down and has Manon arrested and kills Lescaut in front of her.

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Joseph Caley and James Streeter in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

ACT 3 begins in the dockyard of New Orleans, where Manon and all the other prostitutes have been shipped to. Des Grieux has followed under the premise that he is her husband. The music has a naval theme which turns into the progressive like motion of the waves of the sea. The ladies are all clearly distressed and almost unable to stand. The Gaoler turns his attention to Manon. He thinks she can be bought and offers her diamonds, but she has changed her way and refuses. He forces himself upon her in what is a particularly distressing scene to watch. Des Grieux bursts in and kills the Gaoler. The couple flee into the swamps but the effects of the long journey, assault and heat prove too much for Manon. She has bursts of life, repeating similar steps to the previous pas de duex but shaky and unsteady, then suddenly becoming limp. Her life and recent events flash before her and she gives up. Des Grieux is inconsolable.

Alina Cojucaru plays Manon beautifully. The way she was able to portray feelings with a simple glance and gesture of a hand was exquisite. Her playful and light mood when dancing with Des Grieux resonates to the audience. The greed in her eyes when she is bestowed with gifts and her enjoyment at being objectified make you despise her. And in the last dance with Des Grieux, her weak, lifeless and limp body whilst she is moved around like a rag doll, makes it evident that this is her swan song, and you pity her. Alina is able to shine on stage without the presence of heavily embellished attire and diamonds.

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English National Ballet in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

Joseph Caley perfectly captures the essence of a young man in love, full of exuberance and vigour. The way he looks at Manon is reminiscent of a puppy dog. Her betrayal leave him completely distraught and his dancing becomes slightly on the border of uncontrollable, lashing out just as one would. When Manon dies in his arms, you can hear his cry without him making a sound, it comes from his soul.

Joseph-Caley-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo
Joseph Caley in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

You can also read insights of performing with the English National Ballet with other lead principals Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez along with their take on Manon, just following this link ENB Q&A With Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina

Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Manon is an emotional rollercoaster of love, greed and despair. Never have I ever watched a production that has left me so tense and brought tears to my eyes. Unlike the other tragic love stories like Swan Lake or Giselle, Manon is infinitely raw because it could be real. The story is one of life, the dilemmas  presented, the decisions made and the life altering consequences. I defy you to leave the theatre without it having a profound effect on you.

 

Manon is showing at the Opera House Manchester until Saturday 20th October before it moves onto Milton Keynes Theatre 24-27th October and finally at The Mayflower Southampton 31 oct – 3rd Nov. Tickets can be booked through AGT website here. AGT TICKETS

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