This touring production of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon is stripped to kill. Originated by the Royal Danish Ballet its spartan design is cool, sharp and effective, allowing the focus to remain on the dancers at all times. And with Alina Cojocaru in the title role that can only be a good thing.
From the moment she steps out of the carriage into the decadent melee of 18th Century Paris it is clear that she will not be entering the convent whither she was headed. Cojocaru’s innocence is already tainted by worldly stimuli – the juxtaposition of rich and poor, meek and arrogant acts like a narcotic; she flirts and tests her sexuality with an older man before falling in love with the the bookish student Des Grieux. It establishes Manon’s contradictions at a stroke – innocent and wanton, romantic and realistic, capricious minx and tragic heroine.
Like Wedekind’s Lulu, she is many things to many men. MacMillan’s choreography provides the psychological blueprint for the characters as well as the narrative line. The subtle shift from childlike fun to more adult game playing is extraordinary, the spiky competitiveness of the harlots in the brothel scene who push and shove and slap each other around recalls the Trocks.
As Monsieur GM’s mistress, dressed in furs and diamonds Manon is elevated and degraded simultaneously when passed from man to man in a dance of delirious serpentine abandon to Massenet’s music – here sounding very like Tchaikovsky’s Arabian Dance from The Nutcracker.
Bristling with danger and sleaze, Jeffery Cirio’s Lescaut pimps his own sister before taking a bullet in the chest. From feathery bourrees to the ragdoll despair of the climax Cojocaru holds nothing back. She looked utterly drained at the end. Me too.