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May 6, 2011 4:13 pm
Manon is returned to the Royal Ballet’s schedule in brighter form than of late. Costuming has been freshened; new casts have been seen (with Marianela Nuñez making her debut on Wednesday night as that adorable heroine and victim); and the score has been revised by Martin Yates, who has cleared encrustations, reverted to Massenet’s orchestrations, introduced new music (notably in a prelude to the scene with the Gaoler), and conducted for Nuñez’s cast with a fine verve.
Manon is catnip at the box-office, double catnip for ballerinas who covet every amorous moment, every anguished step, and a tremendous outing for a company eager to show its skills at full tilt. On Wednesday the piece looked very well indeed. Nuñez plays the role with delicious physical allure, contriving to be both a lad’s dream of romance and a roué’s ideal. Her dancing is as pretty as can be, living with the music, unafraid of emotional or technical challenge, sweetly stated, until the last devastating duet, which looked, I thought, momentarily underpowered.
The problem with this performance was the conscientious but all-too-dutiful portrayal of Des Grieux from Nehemiah Kish, who has to discover how to open his soul and his body to the long lines, the ecstatic and urgent pulse, of the seminarian’s passion. Des Grieux, after all, fires the entire drama.
A bold and devious Lescaut came from Thiago Soares, action everywhere weighted with calculation, the drunk scene done on a high-wire of daring. Here he had the benefit of Claire Calvert as his mistress, melting, luscious in manner, deliciously assured and witty in dance, and boasting feet that are lovely in shape, eloquent in stating the choreography.
Elizabeth McGorian was en beauté as the Madame of that jolly bordello and the tale, as ever, went its sordid and heartwarming way. With great acumen, Kenneth MacMillan made Manon as an audience-pleaser. I recall some of the crabbed first night notices, and rejoice that Manon’s brilliancy in drama and lustrous dance have proved them massively wrong. And MacMillan massively right.
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