Some dance works age, some don’t. Yet it is difficult to pinpoint the factors that bestow immortality on something as ephemeral as ballet. In the case of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, however, timelessness stems mainly, though not exclusively, from a masterly woven dramatic layout; it is through the possibility of diverse interpretative readings that the ballet constantly renews itself, thus standing the test of time and the changes in performance trends.
Such interpretative flexibility is not synonymous with whimsical ad lib, though. The possible readings which the ballet offers to its performers draw upon a well-set choreography. Steps, gestures, solos, duets and choral dances resonate with all of MacMillan’s creative genius. They are never purely ornamental, nor are they there just to exploit the dancer’s bravura. On the contrary, they all carry meaning, and they all contribute to the dramatic crescendo of the narrative. And, as such, they can be ‘read’ from a variety of angles despite their being set and immutable.
Last Friday, for example, Federico Bonelli, a dashingly sanguine Des Grieux, used some of the role’s most distinctive choreographic traits — long-held poses, slow turns, extended lines — to highlight the character’s introvert and pensive nature, thus providing the audience with an unusual, though fitting, psychologically complex reading of the part. Similarly, Leanne Benjamin added some well-chosen individual touches to the eponymous heroine, highlighting her inner turmoil and her contradictory nature. Her dancing and acting were constantly informed by a game of subtle contrasts, which mirrored the two sides of the heroine’s persona: the still-na