Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Reviewed by Kate Goerner
This week sees the arrival of English National Ballet to the Opera House in Manchester with Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, first performed in 1974 and rarely seen outside of London.
The ballet, set to a score by Jules Massenet and reworked by Martin Yates, is based on Prévost’s Manon Lescaut, and tells the tale of Manon (Alina Cojocaru) who when being traded by her brother Lescaut (Jeffrey Cirio) meets and runs away with idealistic young student Des Grieux (Joseph Caley).
Their romantic idyll is soon shattered when Manon’s head is turned by the furs and diamonds laid on by the sleazily menacing Monsieur GM (James Streeter) and she abandons Des Grieux for him.
They are later reunited, but they pay the price for their defiance and, somewhat inevitably, it all ends tragically in a swirling, confusing, Louisiana swamp.
Dangerous Liaisons indeed.
The powerful production is packed with extraordinary performances.
As the young lovers Cojocaru and Caley (both making their debuts in the roles) are irresistible. Their Act I playful and shy courtship pas de deux making way for a more physical pairing the following morning. And their hypnotic and heart-breaking final dance together deserved the cheers.
As the sinister Monsieur GM, Streeter rose above being a cut-out villain, his height, combined with costume, make up and beautifully controlled body language sent a real shiver down my spine. Not a man who would take being left lightly.
Crowd pleasers were Ciro’s infectious Lescaut – his drunk dancing clearly delighted the appreciative Opera House audience – and Katja Khaniukova as his mistress, displaying both passion and control.
Artists of the company play a variety of roles from courtesans and their customers to both extremes of society – powdered faces and rouged cheeks contrasting with dirty smudges and ragged clothes, coiffed wigs with tousled hair.
The female artists clearly had great fun in Act II in particular, inside a den of iniquity. Their romantic dresses belying their competitive nature when it came to landing a customer – behind the smiles they were all sly shoves and sharp elbows.
Mia Stensgaard’s stunning design coupled with Mikki Kunttu’s lighting brought modernity to the production. An abstract prow of a ship and an incongruous modern large scale period painting that set the scene in Act 1 brought an interesting twist to proceedings.
Indeed the scope and scale of the production is so vast that at times it seemed a little restricted on the Opera House stage – but with another literary heroine in residence down the road at the Palace, perhaps this couldn’t be helped and really is a minor reservation.
Manon truly is a stunning production that will delight and devastate in turn and again reinforces why ballet companies should be congratulated for stepping away from the more familiar tales, and enabling regional audiences to experience the rarer works.