The Ballet Season Starts With A Bang: Manon At Royal Opera House

Manon, Royal Opera House ★★★★☆

Hari Mountford
By Hari Mountford Last edited 56 months ago

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Last Updated 04 October 2019

The Ballet Season Starts With A Bang: Manon At Royal Opera House Manon, Royal Opera House 4
Photo: Bill Cooper

To open the new ballet season, the Royal Ballet is back with a bang, bringing Kenneth Macmillan’s dramatic 1974 production Manon to Covent Garden. A three-act ballet that seems a million miles away from the standard Swan Lake, Manon, like most ballets, is particularly tragic, but ultimately offers everything a good performance should: love, violence, death — and exquisite dancing.

Based on a novel by French author Antoine Francois Prevost, the story follows Manon, a would-be nun en-route to convent, and her relationships both as a mistress to the wealthy Monsieur GM — who offers her little more than riches — and to her true lover, Des Grieux. What follows is a story of love vs. money, family loyalty and corruption — and a not-so-happy ending.

Photo: Bill Cooper

Watching Manon is like being a sideline spectator of  a real-life period drama: for this one, we're taken back to 18th century Paris, to a climate where sex and money will get you far. Although the main action happens centre-stage, what is particularly notable about this performance are the detailed vignettes on the fringes of the drama; countless ‘mini-ballets’ playing out at the sidelines, that you can easily get lost in. Each dancer plays their character as a good actor would — in fact, Manon really highlights that ultimately, a successful ballet dancer must also be a pretty decent drama student, as indeed they all are here.

Photo: Bill Cooper

This is a riches-to-rags tale: when Manon is reduced to rags at the end of the ballet, she is distinctly reminiscent of Fantine in Les Miserables, and the earlier prostitute scene, too, invites comparison. Yet unlike Les Miserables, Manon is not just miserable: there are frequent comedic scenes, many featuring at least one drunken character, which makes the whole affair seem even more of an emotional rollercoaster. Lauren Cuthburtson is a stunning Manon, and the bedroom pas de deux scenes with Matthew Ball, who plays Des Grieux, are nothing short of perfection.

Slightly complex in storyline, yet simply beautiful in terms of dancing, Manon is exquisite: if this production is anything to go by, the upcoming season is set to be a cracker.

Manon, Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD. Tickets from £5, until 6 November 2019.