The Royal Ballet’s Manon Review

It all makes perfect sense

After a near four-year absence, Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon returned to the Royal Opera House as the Royal Ballet continues its season-long tribute to the choreographer on the 25th anniversary of his death.

The company presents a well-rehearsed set of soloists on opening night, but a less than stellar corps surrounds them.

Claire Calvert woos with lush upper body and gorgeously presented feet and James Hay is sure-footed as the beggar chief, but his fellow beggars are less certain, tumbling and hopping through MacMillan’s tricky turns in particular.

Claire Calvert as Mistress with Artists of the Royal Ballet. Photo: Alastair Muir (2018)

As Lescaut though, Alexander Campbell hits every mark – I cannot fault him here.  He lashes at every movement, but with control and understanding.

And as his sister, Manon, Francesca Hayward is picture-perfect – stepping in for an indisposed Laura Morera.

Francesca Hayward as Manon and Federico Bonelli as Des Grieux. Photo: Alastair Muir (2018)

Many a ballerina choose to display Manon as a mix of Kitri – cheeky and sensual – and Juliet – torn between family loyalty and true love.  This is a mistake, but not one that Hayward makes.

Through steely technique and superlative acting, she helps us understand what Manon is thinking.  Campbell too lends a helping hand – there is always a dialogue between the pair, even when they aren’t directly engaging with one another.

Manon enters as a young girl on her way to the convent, but as her brother realises the power her beauty has on men, plans change.

As the acts progress we see the careful mapping of her character by MacMillan, expressed through Hayward’s understanding of her character’s contradiction.

“She’s naive, but not stupid,” Hayward noted before her début in 2014.

Alexander Campbell as Lescaut, Francesca Hayward as Manon and Christopher Saunders as Monsieur G.M.. Photo: Alastair Muir (2018)

She meets Des Grieux, Federico Bonelli experiencing one of his finer nights, who falls in love with her.

Manon is greedy for all that life and her beauty have to offer, without wanting to pay the price.  Her love for Des Grieux is not strong enough that she can resist a man who could offer her more riches (Christopher Saunder’s Monsieur G.M.), yet her desire to experience love in all its ways is stronger than her need to marry for riches.

The ballet is all about Manon – L’histoire de Manon – not anyone else.  Her experiences, her wants and her needs –  either through the fault of society, her own or a combination of the two.  Hayward displays this so well that by the time the audience find her and Des Grieux running into a New Orleans swamp, it all makes perfect sense.  As they dance their final pas de deux, their is some remorse for Manon, but finally also some for Des Grieux and his undying loyalty to her.

Francesca Hayward as Manon and Federico Bonelli as Des Grieux. Photo: Alastair Muir (2018)

Manon remains in rep through May 16, 2018.  For tickets and further details visit the website of the Royal Opera House.

[Featured image: Christopher Saunders as Monsieur G.M., Francesca Hayward as Manon and Alexander Campbell as Lescaut.Photo: Alastair Muir (2018)]

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