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'Manon', English National Ballet - London Coliseum

Prior to watching this performance of Manon, I had never been to the London Coliseum, nor had I ever seen the English National Ballet perform. My experience with ballet is, in fact, rather limited; even though I have always been a huge fan of ballet and was fortunate enough to see some of the most breathtaking and remarkable performances in New York and Warsaw. Manon was my first ballet experience in London and I was overwhelmingly impressed.

James Streeter, Alina Cojocaru and Jeffrey Cirio in Manon © Laurent Liotardo.

Written by the Abbé Prévost in the eighteenth century, Manon is the tragic love story of its eponymous main character, Manon (interpreted by the marvellous Alina Cojocaru) and her lover, a young student named Des Grieux (incarnated by Joseph Caley). Manon, the sister of Lescaut (Jeffrey Cirio), is admired by the wealthy Monsieur GM (James Streeter), who tries to win her heart with his riches, expensive jewellery and clothes. However, whilst the Monsieur seeks her affections, Manon falls in love with the young Des Grieux, with whom she escapes to Paris. Found in Des Grieux’s apartment by her brother, Manon is enticed by servants with Monsieur GM’s riches and leaves with him. Des Grieux finds Manon with Monsieur GM and decides to cheat the wealthy man at a card game in order to win Manon back from him. Des Grieux succeeds and the lovers flee.

However, it does not end there, Monsieur GM soon finds them and suddenly Manon is arrested under account of her activities as a courtesan and her brother, Lescaut, is dramatically shot dead. The third act of the ballet takes place in New Orleans, where Manon has been deported alongside other suspected prostitutes. Des Grieux follows her to America and saves her from the Gaoler (but only after he has forced himself upon Manon). Following a dramatic turn of events, Manon and Des Grieux become trapped in a swamp and Manon dies in his arms from the strain of her anxiety and deportation.

James Streeter, Alina Cojocaru and Jeffrey Cirio in Manon © Laurent Liotardo.

The ballet blends both tradition and modernity and has emerged as a truly unique and magnificent piece. The most striking aspect of the performance (aside from the master choreographies and the marvellous performances executed by the dancers), was the relationship between the story and the costumes and set design - true to eighteenth-century Parisian style, the costumes were spectacular and skilfully emphasised the tradition of classical ballet. At the same time, the set design was truly modern, with universally coloured walls, the black shadow of carriage, and colour-contrasting backgrounds, reminiscent of abstract art. The pictorial retrospective embraced by the theatrical smoke also implied the style of modern art, allowing the spectators to interpret the ballet in their own modern way.

Spirit of modernism was also present in the dancers’ performances. The ballet integrated the seriousness of drama with a light and pleasant humour present in the situational scenes. Furthermore, the dancers’ highly precise performances displayed their ability to imporsonate the most challenging roles through dance were truly impressive. The lead dancer, Alina Cojocaru, a true ballet icon of the twenty-first century, amazed the audience in the magnificent and emotionally charged pas-de-deux of the love dance in the Act 1, alongside Joseph Cirio. The performance, expressing the unquestionable passion and love of the characters, emanated authenticity, warmth and mastery. The whole choreography of the ballet was beyond intriguing. Nevertheless, I was mostly inspired by the story which, despite being infused with tragedy, expressed humour throughout.

Manon is a production that emanates beauty, passion and innovation. This, together with the mastery of the dancers and the astonishing performances, makes it one of the most remarkable ballets created to this day - one that you should definitely see!

Edited by Evangeline Stanford


London Coliseum

St Martin's Lane London WC2N 4ES 16 - 20 Jan 2019

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