“Manon: Kenneth MacMillan’s acclaimed tragic ballet is a modern masterpiece.”
One of the perks of being a foreign student in London is having the opportunity to appreciate and live the city as a local. Part of the experience is inevitably going to theatre performances; this time I was pleased to be invited to the Royal Opera House to see one the most “human” ballets I have ever seen: Manon .
Manon is based on the French novel “L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut” by A. Prévost. Manon is intended to embrace the convent life when she falls passionately in love with the young student Des Grieux. As the two lovers elope to Paris, Manon is conflicted by the love for Des Grieux and a life of opulence offered by Monsieur G.M. In the attempt to steal Monsieur G.M.‘s fortune, they are caught and Manon is deported as a prostitute in New Orleans followed by Des Grieux. Devoid of forces, Manon dies in her lover’s arms.
The realism of Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet is embodied in every single aspect of it. The choice of Massenet’s lyrics depicts his propensity to portray real and lucid characters far from the idyllic and dramatic ones represented in Puccini’s opera. The melody is light and pleasant, capable of leaving the audience with a sense of freedom and innocence. The scenography perfectly illustrates the life in the 18th century with all its excesses but the idyllic bubble bursts in its pure realism as theatrical smoke and ostentatious lights encompass Manon’s death.
The humanity of this ballet reaches its climax in the representation of our heroine. As one of the most ambivalent characters, Manon evolves from an innocent young lady to a promiscuous courtesan, to a manipulated marionette and an exhausted human being. The phases of her degradation are dictated by the continuous incorporation of jazz and contemporary dance movements, which confer a trace of sensuality on the perfectionism of a classical ballet. Don’t get me wrong: when I talk about sensuality I don’t refer to an exchange of glances only. The love of the two characters explodes in a real kisses and crude representations of sexual acts.
I entered the Royal Opera House expecting to live the elegance and virtuosity typical of classical ballets but I was even more astonished by the mix of passion, exhaustion and still incredible grace that I eventually lived.