Royal Opera House
Wednesday, 16th May 2018
Manon – 05/16/2018
Manon: Lauren Cuthbertson
Des Grieux: Reece Clarke
Lescaut: Ryoichi Hirano
Lescaut’s Mistress: Itziar Mendizabal
Monsieur G.M.: Bennet Gartside
Gaoler: Thomas Whitehead
Last Manon before the new Swan Lake’s madness (and grand world premiere opening night later today), and I can just say this: stunning.
The closing night saw something MacMillan would have adored: as the ballet premiered in 1974, Antoinette Sibley created the leading role of Manon (alongside Anthony Dowell as her Des Grieux). Now internationally recognised and celebrated, Manon did not meet the critic’s approval for many reason: one of them was that Sibley was such a pure young dancer, and critics were shocked by the role she was portraying. With the Guardian writing “basically, Manon is a slut and Des Grieux is a fool and they move in the most unsavoury company” and the Morning Star stating that it was “an appalling waste of the lovely Antoinette Sibley, who is reduced to a nasty little diamond digger.”
As Sibley, Lauren is probably the Royal Ballet’s loveliest ballerina, and she made a wonderful Manon alongside a fantastic Reece, who’s probably been the best Des Grieux ever seen this Season.
As act 1 opens to the courtyard of an inn near Paris, jam-packed with actresses, gentlemen and the demimonde from the city, Reece stands out as an elegant and charming Des Grieux, while Ryoichi Hirano and Itziar Mendizabal – as Lescaut and his mistress – dance among the crowd.
I saw them earlier this month during the live cinema relay, and as on May 3rd they did really good, but I actually could not help but think about Marci and Bea’s Lescaut and mistress back last month. Rio and Itziar were technically fine (him in particular), but there was no clue of magical chemistry or ferocious charisma showed off by Marcelino and Beatriz in the Marianela-Bolle cast.
As the coach arrived and Lauren came to the stage as a young lighthearted Manon on her way to enter a convent, the delight started: she was so amazing as she met and fell in love with Des Grieux – audience was able to actually experience all the feels as every shade of them was portrayed through her face, look and whole body. Along with Reece they made the moments so credible and real, while they decided to elope to Paris (helped by the money the mischievous girl has stolen from the old gentleman who escorted her to the inn, and with whom Lescaut, having noticed his attraction to her, is trying to make an arrangement over his own sister).
The following bedroom pas de deux was a total joy for the eyes: loved up, full of vibrant happiness and flawlessly performed by Lauren and Reece. In the Des Grieux’s lodging set, there’ve been legs for days, amazing lifts and incredible twirls, and please, let’s talk about that masterpiece that is Massenet’s score! I love the whole ballet’s music composition, but the bedroom duo’s one… wow, it really is a work of art, perfectly framing the moments as Manon and Des Grieux declare their love for each other. There have been incredible lines and legs for days in a superb array of youthful exuberance and truthful feelings.
Lauren legs and arms were so fluid, and Reece’s technique was such a joy for the eyes – they both danced so beautifully, and the whole ROH was in awe admiring their gorgeous shapes and the wondrous chemistry between them. They made it all so very exciting to watch!
Ending the first act on a bitter note, Lescaut arrives at Des Grieux’s alongside Monsieur GM in the young student’s absence: Bennett Gartside was convincing as he offered Manon luxurious garments and sparkling jewels, which persuaded her to yield to his proposal of being his mistress.
Reece returned in disbelief, with Rio trying to convince him that they would have all benefited from the compromise.
In act 2 the Company pulled out all they could in the brothel scene, aka the party at the hotel particulier of Madame – played by Elizabeth McGorian. They all were on fire for this closing night!
There, Lauren came in all here shining power, just incredibly splendid in her black look and jewels (and she actually forgot to take off the sleeved dress before her solo). She’s not the same girl as the bedroom duo’s one – she’s grown up, she plays with her allure, she’s more mature and less lighthearted, as her new role of Monsieur GM’s mistress dons her a whole new personality. Due to her ambitions of wealth and splendour she adores GM’s wealth, but at the same time the feelings for Des Grieux remain.
He’s here with her brother – and there Rio gave a firecracker performance as drunken Lescaut! A special shoutout to him for his brilliant and comical solo and for the drunk pas de deux with Itziar as well. It is such a technically demanding piece, as well as theatrically challenging, but Rio really smashed it, as he did during the cinema relay. It has to be so difficult to pretend being drunken and dancing such a hard routine!
Great courtesans by Fumi Kaneko, Mayara Magri, Natalie Harrison and Gina Storm Jensen. I very much enjoyed Fumi and Mayara’s duo, they were so good fighting with each other performing such fun characters.
And again, what a great artist Reece is! His Des Grieux was so real during the whole three acts: I loved his gazes as he tried not to look at Manon, but then he was kind of forced to do it, so intrigued and still very much in love with her. He proved to be a splendid dancer as well as actor in the unfolding sequences, while he persuaded Manon to leave with him, tried to win Monsieur GM’s money at cards and was caught cheating, forcing them to flee.
Again in his lodgings, setting themselves to the rush away from Paris, the police and GM arrive, holding Lescaut, and Lauren gave the finest of interpretations as she cried in anguished distress for the killing of her brother.
Act 3 sees the characters on the other side of the pond, in the scums of New Orleans’ port.
Thomas Whitehead was the Gaoler, awaiting the arrival of the deported prostitutes from France and being disgustingly violent and mean to them – a good villain role from him.
I still cannot get over how wonderful Nela did in her Manon, but this time was amazing in a different way: whilst Nela was absolutely extraordinary alongside an ice-faced Bolle, Lauren and Reece’s was a joint act, and I extremely loved it. What a terrific performance and what a partnership! It’s still emotional to think about it now.
I can’t praise Lauren highly enough and Reece was simply great in his portrayal of anguished Des Grieux, credible in his bursting love for Manon, heartbreaking in his strenuous attempts to save her from the Gaoler’s interests by pretending to be her husband and then by killing him.
The gaoler’s murder force them to escape into the swamp of Louisiana, but Manon dies during the tormented dash in Reece’s arms: their final harrowingly moving pas de deux was incredibly poignant and powerful, with Lauren loosing strengths step after step and then collapsing to death leaving him heartbroken. And yeah, this time the struggle was real: there was no pantomime on Reece’s face, just pain, as if he actually felt it for real. I was so emotionally drained after the last duo – this last Manon was so worth waiting for!
It’s been a splendid closing night wrapping up one of MacMillan’s main masterpieces, and I cannot wait for his next one to come back to stage – Mayerling, opening next Season in October in all the tortured torments of Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary (an absolute favourite of mines).
I’m glad that I’ve been able to witness my two favourite ballerinas taking the role of Manon, but I would have loved to see Osipova as well, even though she did not perform alongside David Hallberg, still recovering from his injury happened during act 1 of Giselle at the beginning of March (but even just those few glimpses of them together were an absolute treat, I really hope he’ll have a swift recovery and will come back soon to the ROH). And it’s been especially great to see such a very impressive and passionate Des Grieux from Reece Clarke as well – I am not going to spend more words about how I did not enjoy Bolle’s performance.
Manon could not be at the highest place in my favourite ballets’ list, but I loved how the Royal Ballet pulled off yet another opulent, magnificent production, with their glittering talents dancing through amazing sets, shining jewellery, and fancy costumes, giving a fantastic, realistic and complex insight into the social framework of the time.
Stage Door chronicles: lovely to catch up with Covent Garden’s fellows and seeing some familiar faces after the almost empty McGregor – Ashton – MacMillan perplexing triple bill. And Lauren’s been lovely and kind as per usual!
Back to the ROH in a few hours for the Company’s brand new production of Swan Lake tonight!