Manon, Royal Opera House | Review

Royal Opera House
Reviewed on Wednesday 2nd October 2019 by Olivia Mitchell

The Royal Ballet's new season opens with Manon, Kenneth MacMillan's tale of doomed love and sexual exploitation. It's a ballet that puts the greed and debauchery of the 18th-century world at it's forefront whilst highlighting the company's skill at storytelling.

Formed in 1974, Manon remains one of the company's most popular works, with the title role a dream to play for many dancers. The emotional story of the heroine who falls for the young hero whilst being drawn to a life of luxury as a rich man's mistress, is moving and exquisite to see onstage.

Compared to other ballets where the leading female is a fully formed character, in Manon our leading lady is an almost ambiguous presence who floats around the stage engaging in all the action but taking on the forms of varying emotions. Almost embodying the feelings of those around her, she seems to be a passive player in a world dominated by men and money. Massenet's beautifully hypnotic music guides her around the stage and the people surrounding her lead her story.

As the somewhat aloof leading lady, Sarah Lamb is delightful. Despite at times lacking the extremes of passion or sadness, Lamb is consistently fluent and earnest. Lamb's performance as Manon is beautifully danced, highly nuanced in terms of her emotional acting, and overall is pure joy to watch.

The most intoxicating moments are seen when Lamb joins with Vadim Muntagirov as Des Grieux who is resplendent throughout. Equal measures of innocence, vulnerability and passion make every second of his stage time a delight. Together the pair bring light and darkness to the stage in a way which is devastating and stunning all at once. Melting together is moments of pure bliss and bouncing away from one another in playful affection, the two dancers really do seem like a match made in ballet heaven.

As Manon's charismatic, pimping brother Lescaut, Ryoichi Hirano excels. His drunken dance is choreographed madness as he swirls round the stage in an alcohol induced wobble, but retains poise and grace throughout. His comedic timing is second to none as is the underlying current of threat which he imbues into each moment. In the role of his mistress, Itziar Mendizabal is bold and sultry as always. Her emotional performance is striking and she really gives some of the stand out moments of the night.

This is an excellent opening to the season, filled with sharp, clean and fresh dancing which invites the audience to bask in the emotion and drama unfurling in front of them. An ideal first-time-ballet this is a must-see as well as a must-hear thanks to Martin Yates' sumptuous re-orchestrations.

photo credit: Alice Pennefather

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