Photo by Laurent Liotardo
We last saw ENB at work at the Festival Hall in June, back to impressive ballet basics. With the Christmas season of Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker out the way, Manon strikes a less frothy note, telling the tale of a beautiful young girl about to be pimped out by her brother and torn by the irreconcilable attractions of pure love and avaricious aspiration. Unwilling to live without money, she shuns her penniless lover Des Grieux and becomes a courtesan. With Manon's encouragement, Des Grieux attempts to cheat his beloved's wealthy lover of his fortune but is scuppered and Manon ends up being deported to New Orleans to be sold as a servant, whilst the hapless Des Grieux follows her, intent on rescuing her. He just about manages it too, but she dies anyway. Tis not a happy tale.
It's good for ballet lovers though - lots of beautiful lead dancing between Manon and her men, young and old. Agnes Oaks, star of ENB and due to retire at the end of the season, opened the casting and was supremely pretty and coquettish, but more at home as the coldly alluring courtesan than the emotionally wracked lover. Her real-life husband, Thomas Edur, in the role of Des Grieux was handsome as ever, but really rather wobbly until he finally got out of his tights to wallow in the Louisiana swamp. Ovations were due to Dmitri Gruzdyev as Manon's unscrupulous brother who performed a sensational drunk pas de deux in Act II with his tremendously brave partner, Elena Glurdjidze. At points, we really were unsure whether he'd actually be there to catch her.
It's been a big year for MacMillan's passionate, sexy ballet, having had a star studded run at the Royal Opera House but if you missed out there, do treat yourself to the Coliseum. MacMillan's choreography is divine, the ENB dancers are fabulous and this minimalist production let's the ballet speak for itself. An ideal antidote to Christmas jollies and inspirational if you're looking to join a dance class for the January detox.