ROHManon 1

Royal Opera House
Monday, 16th April 2018


Manon – 04/16/2018

Nela being a star during rehearsals
Manon: Marianela Nunez
Des Grieux: Roberto Bolle
Lescaut: Marcelino Sambé
Lescaut’s Mistress: Beatriz Stix-Brunell
Monsieur G.M.: Christopher Saunders
Gaoler: Gary Avis


BACK!!! My starved soul has had its fill once again – a month haul is too cruel to be handled: I wanted to buy a ticket to come back during the break just to see one or two shows. Thank God, there’s been the Bernstein Centenary cinema relay, but that wasn’t enough four my ravenous heart longing for a glimpse of Royal Ballet.
My eyes started glistening as soon as I entered the House, and all the excitement was kept high by Marianela’s name beside ‘Manon’. How thrilling! Far less electrifying was the Bolle factor, as he performed as De Grieux in MacMillan’s work of art.
MacMillan was harshly criticised for many reasons when this ballet premiered, including the fact that Des Grieux’s entrance did not make the audience clapping. Well, I am grateful fort that. Bolle surely doesn’t need further ego boosts.

The bedroom pas de deux, here with Federico in 2014

He’s a good and thoughtful partner, but his fault is that he’s definitely unable to act. Even during Manon and Des Grieux’s most passional pas de deux he was an icy blast. His face was like a billboard saying ‘look at me, I’m an handsome prince’ – I mean, wake up Roberto: nobody likes a show off! And in the end, when once deported to New Orleans Manon dies from exhaustion in Des Grieux’s arms, his ‘acting’ seemed like a hardly credible and forced pantomime.
He did good in slow routines, strong with the assuredness of a role he’s been dancing for years: he had an excellent turnout in them, but when it came to faster ones en dedans stroke.
And in the bedroom pas de deux… I don’t want to sound politically incorrect but I saw two loved up girls – Marianela because she had to be like that and acted amazing, and Bolle… well, he might have left his manhood at home (I liked this pas de deux way more in 2014 with Nela and Federico).
So, emotionally speaking I did not like him but obviously, Nela alone can always provide all the emotions, leading the audience trough an emotional rollercoaster full of powerful drama and tragedy.

Rehearsal picture of Manon and Des Grieux’ first meeting in act 1

She was incredible, she was stunning, she was PERFECTION. She showed off such unbelievable artistry, acting her heart out by portraying a captivating, at time capricious Manon (hilarious jump into the bed at the end of the bedroom scene by the way), making her struggle to escape poverty so clear with her narrative, dramatic dance (the girl wants the diamonds). The whole ROH was besotted as she involved us all into her plight through worlds of lavish splendour and miserable hardship.
Nela’s definitely the most versatile ballerina ever: it’s so astonishing how she can always ‘map’ a character, adding such details in her interpretation and channeling charisma like there’s no tomorrow. In the brothel scene for example, when Manon is torn and she’s struggling to choose whether to leave Monsieur G.M. for Des Grieux or not: one could clearly see her changing her mind gradually, going at the back of the stage, touching the jewels wondering what she could stole.
L’histoire de Manon draws one of the most unfortunate heroines ever, and Nela was glorious, hitting every mark with her steely technique and her picture perfect allure. She gave such a superlative Manon and stunningly led the company through MacMillan’s tricky turns and routines. Her rock stoned technique dazzled throughout the three act, with her never ending arabesques in the bedroom pas de deux (to die for, I swear), and her brothel solo… that was art. Pure art. As Manon dances, the rest of the cast stands still, but she did not freeze just them: the whole audience was astonished by her twirling around in her black dress and lavish jewels. She shone as much as the dozens of carats she was wearing.

Slaying in act 2

Marcelino did amazing as Manon’s brother Lescaut, who offers her to the highest bidder when she meets Des Grieux and falls in love and encourages him to cheat at cards in an attempt to win Monsieur G.M.’s fortune. He always performs great, and his drunken solo was the best thing ever and perfectly credible.
And he has such a good chemistry with Beatriz, this run portraying his mistress. I just love how she sparkles bright everything she does with such a compelling stage presence – she can be a shepherdess, a princess, a Wilis, a peasant, a jewel, and she’s always beyond marvelous. Yesterday she was wonderful as per usual, and her arms in her brothel solo were seemed like water. Such a treat!
I really hope a promotion is in store for next season, it would be awesome to see her in more important roles.
Not sure about that – I may have seen an earring flying at her entrance, but she managed it well by the way.

Gary Avis as the Gaoler in New Orleans

In his tricorne hat Monsieur G.M. – Christopher Saunders – was reptilian and terrifyingly violent as he offers offers Manon a life of luxury as his mistress she can’t resist (love or carats, you know), and Gary Avis was incredible as the Gaoler of the penal colony. It’s unbelievable how he can be THE Mr Christmas in Nutcracker – I really cannot see anyone else performing Drosselmeyer – throwing joy and glitter, and such a great villain too. What an excellent actor he is!

Gary and Nela in act 3

The third act is a masterpiece as well, set in New Orleans’ port where the Gaoler awaits the arrival of the convicts from France. Manon, arrested and deported as a prostitute is followed there by Des Grieux, who’s pretending to be her husband and in an array of events kills the Gaoler. There the lightnings change and there’s much less brown and gold, which characterised Paris’ settings. The last scene is truly amazing, with the shades of Manon’s past ambitions of wealth occurring behind the final pas de deux, following which she dies from exhaustion. There Nela was just heartbreaking: I should stop being surprised by her ever brighter talent, I know, she just keeps getting better show after show.

It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable and moving evening thanks to a stellar cast (plus Bolle), and Nela didn’t let a dry eye in the House (but that’s a must for her, I could cry even watching her Sleeping Beauty).
Manon is not my favourite ballet among MacMillan’s – I’m dying for Romeo & Juliet and Mayerling to come back in rep next season – but it’s truly remarkable how his production always provide vivid scenes, ensembles and portraits of complex pictures. Here the faults of society are so well represented, and there’s so much going on in every stage of the ballet (in particular in the hôtel particulier scene, which is actually an high class brothel).
Nasty Mayara and Fumi as the courtesans were awesome, and Leticia Dias stood out among the harlots – every portrayal of social scenes is great and distinct from one another, showing such different societies between Paris’ splendor and the scums of New Orleans. Plus, Massenet’s score is amazing.
In honour of MacMillan’s death’s 25th anniversary this season we’ve experienced so many of ‘his’ women: victims of rape, prostitution and murder – one only need to think of the Judas Tree or the Invitation (but I’m so very looking forward to the comeback of my dear of Romeo and Juliet).
And his male lead roles are to pull off for real – for instance, Mayerling is one of the Everests of male ballet. Bolle’s not MacMillan at all, and he’s not able to pull through his whirlwinds and emotive pitches.

Pre-performance talk at the Clore Studio Upstairs

Lovely to have unique insight into Manon before the performance thanks to the ROH Student Scheme (generously made possible by The Bunting Family and Sir Simon Robey). At the Clore Studio Kenneth MacMillan’s biographer Jann Parry introduced MacMillan’s wife Deborah MacMillan. They discussed Manon’s reception and critics, and it was interesting to hear from them, in particular from Deborah, custodian of the ballets of her late husband.
I’m really glad the ROH offers us such amazing chances to enrich ourselves and our knowledge.

Stage door chronicles: thankfully, they let two of us wait inside (maybe they recognised some familiar faces among the balletomanes) while the others were freezing in the night. Unfortunately an egomaniac ruined my programme (again, but not as much as last year).

Programme signed by: Marianela Nunez, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Marcelino Sambé, Gary Avis and Roberto Bolle (central, huge and in bold, a bit of a show off, isn’t it?)

Great to see the Company taking class on stage this morning: it was just so inspiring to see so much talent at the same time in the temple to art that is the ROH! So great to have the chance to see the morning class on the main stage (hope I didn’t miss much at college but it was well worth it). Nela joined too and she was amazing, and Bea dazzled as well. I might have even cried when they put on Les Mis’ Do You Hear The People Sing? for tendus at the barre.

On stage morning class – so inspiring!


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