Choreographer: Kenneth MacMillan
Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
Renowned for its dedicated ensembles, magnificent costumes and stunning storytelling, the ballet is a difficult art form for any company to be recognised as the leading light. Yet, the English National Ballet could well be doing just that, with their magnificent interpretation of the classic tale Manon– currently showing at the Opera House in Manchester.
A beautiful and seductive romantic tragedy, with a varied and moving score by Jules Massenet, this piece follows the leading character Manon as she finds herself torn between a life of love and a life of luxury. Falling for the handsome Des Grieux, Manon enjoys a passionate whirlwind romance, before having her eyes torn by the wealthy Monsieur GM. Taking audience members through every emotion, from humour to devastation, this is a tale that proves even the greatest temptations cannot always guarantee you the happiness you desire.
Ultimately, it is the cast’s characterisation that makes this company stand out ahead of its many talented competitors. It is evident that hours of rehearsal time has gone into developing each and every individual, whether a protagonist or not, and ensuring that behind each step and gesture is an accessible ‘movement dialogue’ for the audience to interpret and understand. In the opening act, when the Paris courtyard scene is being established, the choreographed routine with its range of solos, unison work and group pieces, takes place in centre stage. However, you could watch the performance ten times over, and still see something new, with the large cast playing out their own storylines to the stage left and right, while managing not to distract from the central action.
The choreography by Kenneth MacMillan maintains an outstanding quality throughout, ensuring a range of technique – from pas de deux work to strong unisons, to cannon – as well as performance style, to keep the storyline flowing through all three acts. The trio of male Principals – Joseph Caley as Des Grieux, Jeffrey Cirio as Manon’s brother Lescaut and James Streeter as Monsieur GM – provide some of the real highlight moments, showing a magnificent strength and skill in their work together and with other members of the cast.
But it is the star of the show, the title performer, who gives this performance its ultimate magic. Manon played by Alina Cojocaru, who besides playing a number of other iconic roles in her career, has also been recognised with multiple accolades and awards. She is simply flawless, making even the most complex of moves look effortless with her fluidity and musicality. She is far more than just a dancer – this is a performer who lives and breathes every movement in every bone in her body, and in partnership she somehow becomes even more transfixing. Her pas de deux in the first act with Caley is beyond breathtaking, the range of lifts, use of stage and playful energy making it one of the many stand out moments of the show.
A real triumph that is sure to captivate the ballet enthusiast or novice with its rollercoaster storyline, superb staging and all-round stellar cast.
Runs until October 20 2018 | Image: Laurent Liotardo