Laura Freeman Laura Freeman

Manon can be magnificent, this one was merely meh

Plus: Pam Tanowitz’s homage to Merce Cunningham is a triumph

Manon: minx or martyr? There are two ways to play Kenneth MacMillan’s courtesan. Is Manon an ingénue, a guileless country girl, pimped by her own brother and corrupted by Monsieur G.M.? Or is she a pleasure hunter, a man-manipulator, a schemer out for all she can get? In the Royal Ballet’s revival of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, Sarah Lamb is somewhere in the unsatisfactory middle. Primrose innocence in the first act, half-hearted harlot in the second, shorn urchin in the third.

Ryoichi Hirano, as Manon’s brother Lescaut, knows what he’s about. Hirano has a nice line in matadors and caped scoundrels. Every duplicitous turn, every dismissive flick of the wrist, speaks of mercenary betrayal. His Lescaut is superbly disturbing.

Vadim Muntagirov, clutching a slim volume, is a sweet, wide-eyed Des Grieux. His gawkiness serves him well as the young scholar dazzled by Manon. We share his surprise and rapture as he discovers that there is, after all, more to life than his quill. Lamb and Muntagirov dance their first pas de deux with a sense of wind in their sails. They almost carry you with them. Lamb’s come-hither bourrées in the bedroom scene are dazzlingly pretty.

The scene at Monsieur G.M.’s party is less convincing. Lamb’s Manon is neither reluctant nor revelling in her success. Hirano, hitherto strong, loses the plot in Lescaut’s drunk dance. Too broad, too loose, too Dame Edna. The tipsy duet between Lescaut and his Mistress (Itziar Mendizabal in a Little Orphan Annie wig) was clowning where it should be tender. Shouldn’t she indulge him, roll her eyes, know he’ll regret it in the morning? ‘He’s drunk but he’s my drunk’, rather than: ‘He’s drunk, but I’m drunker.’

Muntagirov, meanwhile, dances the jilted Des Grieux like a devastated flamingo. Every lift, every line is perfectly gorgeous, hysterically silly.

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