Dance review: Manon


Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon has become a modern classic, and it is easy to see why. The story – girl rejects true love in favour of riches, only to find redemption as she dies – is perfect for ballet, and the choreography contains some of MacMillan’s most famous (and erotic) pas de deux.

More frequently performed by the Royal Ballet, for whom it was first created back in 1974, the ballet is currently in a short run at the Coliseum, danced by the English National Ballet.

While the choreography remains unchanged, the ENB dances the Royal Danish Ballet’s production, which uses entirely different designs by Mia Stensgaard. As befitting a production more suited to touring, the sets look less weighty and detailed than the originals by Nicholas Georgiadis, and the costumes are pretty rather than opulent. The scenery is minimalist to say the least, and I missed the atmospheric rags used in the final scene to depict the Louisiana swampland.

Alina Cojocaru danced Manon on the opening night, portraying her as a happy innocent, readily falling in love with Joseph Caley’s Des Grieux. Luscious and sexy as she discovers her power over men, she dances with incredible speed and passion. By the end of the ballet she is a mere shell, a ghost living on the memory of love. Hers is a performance to treasure.

As her scheming brother Lescaut, Jeffrey Cirio is deliciously evil, performing his Act II drunken solo with aplomb. Katja Khaniukova is his mistress, showing lovely neat footwork, and Fabian Reimair makes a particularly nasty gaoler, who has his wicked way with Manon (in a scene definitely not for the little ones).

Massenet’s wonderful music is brought to life by the English National Ballet Philharmonic, under Gavin Sutherland’s sure baton. How the music soars…the last pas de deux never fails to rip my heart to shreds. Manon’s run in London is disappointingly short – catch it if you can, but don’t forget the tissues.

Manon, by the English National Ballet, is at the London Coliseum until 20 January.

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