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Manon, Royal Opera House review - splendid start to the season | reviews, news & interviews

Manon, Royal Opera House review - splendid start to the season

Manon, Royal Opera House review - splendid start to the season

MacMillan's 'dirty little diamond digger' proves her worth yet again

Last gasp in Louisiana: Sarah Lamb as Manon and Vadim Muntagirov as Des Grieux in the ballet's final act photo: Alice Pennefather

The Royal Ballet’s choice of season opener could be dismissed as safe and predictable. But as the glorious naturalistic detail of 1830s Paris unfolds in Kenneth MacMillan’s 1974 retelling, you see the reasoning. It’s only a year since the Royal Opera House remodelled its ground floor spaces to be more welcoming, and Manon is the ideal first-time ballet. It has everything – glamour, history, a fast-moving love story crackling with illicit sex, crime and social injustice. And it has MacMillan’s choreography, the like of which – in terms of examining the human heart in all its waywardness – still has no equal. You reach the end of each of the many bedroom pas de deux and realise you have witnessed a conversation.

One of the first, scathing, reviews of this work called its heroine “a nasty little diamond digger”, beneath the dignity of a ballerina. These days there is a long queue of principals around the world clamouring to take on MacMillan’s brilliantly imagined creature: flawed, vulnerable, instinctively seductive – and hardly ever off stage.Sarah Lamb and Vadim MuntagirovSarah Lamb with her tiny frame brings a particular delicacy to the role. Others in the run will play her as a knowing little vixen from the start, but when Lamb (pictured above with Vadim Muntagirov) steps from the carriage that was to have conveyed her to a convent, she is an innocent abroad. When a ghastly old roué tries to chat her up, she reponds with polite concern, as she might to an elderly relative. And when she exits holding his wallet, well, that could have been absent mindedness.

Who wouldn’t be distracted by Vadim Muntagirov, paying court in a series of extreme poses that display every sinew of his elegant legs and buttocks? His character, a student no less, is the only man in the ballet to show respect for women, so no wonder she falls for him so hard. Too bad she also has an eye for the main chance, and when Monsieur GM arrives offering what amounts to half the current stock of Louis Vuitton, she barely hesitates. Dirty digger she may be, but the ballet, and its gorgeous set designs by Nico Georgiadis, are at pains to show us how little choice women had. Born poor, the rotted rags that background almost every scene remained your reality unless you had something to sell.

Even so, the brothel scenes risk being unpalatable in the era of #MeToo – the ceremonial displaying of legs for clients' inspection put me in mind of Channel 4’s Naked Attraction. But no character in this ballet is above reproach. Ryoichi Hirano is particularly convincing as Manon's venal brother (who gets his just desserts in what, since a recent directoral overhaul, now looks more like a cold-blooded revenge killing than an accident with a pistol). Itziar Mendizabal is also on fighting form as his put-upon partner, coerced by threats of being sent to the colonies – a dramatic irony, since this is the fate that will befall Manon. The company as a whole deliver the teeming ensemble scenes with dramatic skill and verve. This production marks a strong start for the House orchestra too. Their delivery of the Massenet score – ramped up by Martin Yates' re-orchestrations – bowls the action along. A bouquet to solo flautist Katherine Baker, stating the heroine's personal motif at the start of each act with heartbreaking limpidity.

MacMillan's brilliantly imagined creature is flawed, vulnerable, instinctively seductive – and hardly ever off stage

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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