In the story of Manon choreographer Kenneth MacMillan found the sordid seam of a corrupt, debauched and decadent society, which he loved to mine. Created in the mid 1970s, this revival was turned by the Royal Ballet’s stellar French ballerina Sylvie Guillem into a star vehicle, resulting in a loss of the sense of work as a whole and at times a selfish disengagement between her and the other characters. Guillem is one of the world’s great dancers, but on the opening night her performance lacked the colour other ballerinas have brought to the role. Yet the auditorium was packed with her fans so the show was a business success.
Jonathan Cope, a fine and elegant dancer, gives a pallid performance as Des Grieux rather than portraying him as a passionate hero. Though technically a good partner, there is no sense of real fervour in the pas de deux nor build-up throughout the work, which the tragic ending needs.
Manon’s immoral brother Lescaut is strongly danced by Thiago Soares. Mara Galeazzi as his mistress dances speedy solos with energy and the dancers as whores and clients display a good technique but are too characterless in their performance to be really engaging.
Anthony Dowell, though forceful as Monsieur G M, Manon’s rich client, is mannered as usual. As the Gaoler, William Tuckett is both brutal and impulsive. Viewing some of the other casts should be interesting.