Manon at the Royal Opera House

It was to be an introduction to ballet for the s.o. and – understandably – I wanted to make it as special as possible. I *love* ballet and so I was really dreading the possibility of him hating it. I am accustomed to going to the ballet alone, but I really like sharing things with the s.o. Ergo, the stakes were high.

Using my little trick for booking cheap(er) tickets I managed to get us tickets for Manon. Let me tell you, I had not realised *who* would be dancing. When I checked on Friday night and realised it would be Natalia Osipova and Carlos Acosta I almost fainted. This is not to say that other artists with the Royal Ballet are not legends in their own right (Sarah Lamb anyone? Edward Watson? Steven McRae? Lauren Cuthbertson? Marianela Nuñez? Federico Bonelli?). But seeing a performance by Osipova and Acosta must count like a rare treat.

I wanted to make the evening super special, so my grandmother’s dress (from 1956 no less) came out of the closet and my hair took a while, let me tell you. I love it when I am in the mood to dress up a bit for these things cause usually I go to the ROH after work in office attire which takes a bit of the glamour out of the whole thing. The s.o. – being the amazingly perceptive chap that he is – was looking like a million bucks too.

Darcey Bussell as Manon and Zoltán Solymosi as Des Grieux in Manon © Leslie E. Spatt 1992
Darcey Bussell as Manon and Zoltán Solymosi as Des Grieux in Manon © Leslie E. Spatt 1992

On the way over I quickly briefed him on the plot.

Manon’s brother Lescaut is offering her to the highest bidder when she meets Des Grieux and falls in love. They elope to Paris, but when Monsieur G.M. offers Manon a life of luxury as his mistress she cannot resist.

With the Lescauts’ encouragement Des Grieux cheats at cards in an attempt to win Monsieur G.M.’s fortune. They are caught and Manon is arrested as a prostitute. She is deported to New Orleans. Des Grieux follows. On the run in the Louisiana swamps, Manon collapses from exhaustion.
(via)

I must say I may have been a bit funnier than that.

Even before we took our seats, I was pleased to see the s.o.’s reaction to the venue. He’s been to the Teatro alla Scala for pity’s sake but he was appropriately impressed by the Royal Opera House. Result.

Having Osipova and Acosta dancing creates high expectations but at the same time I did notice that the audience tends to be star-struck. Might have been only me but Acosta did seem a little bit out of place at the beginning of his first solo. This only lasted about 2 minutes but it did exhibit for me how the audience is appreciative of a legendary talent, regardless of any slightly weird moments.

Lauren Cuthbertson as Manon, Gary Avis as Monsieur GM and Christina Arestis as Madam and Artists of The Royal Ballet in Act II of Kenneth Macmillan's Manon © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2011
Lauren Cuthbertson as Manon, Gary Avis as Monsieur GM and Christina Arestis as Madam and Artists of The Royal Ballet in Act II of Kenneth Macmillan’s Manon © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2011

From then on it was pure bliss. I would not have thought that Osipova – being a slip of a woman – and Acosta – being a bit more of an imposing figure – could have made it work, but work it did. It was magical to watch this woman’s transformation on stage. I was awestruck with her theatricality, especially when she appears as a lofty courtesan, her external demeanour slowly being chipped away and the insecure core exposed. The only other dramatic performance of such magnitude I was honoured to have witnessed in ballet was Edward Watson’s King Leontes.

Acosta is similarly a master of expressing a range of emotions. Considering his age (not too young), it is impressive how he finds and brings forward both the sensitivity and passion of youth – necessary characteristics for Des Grieux.

I don’t know how such talents manage to work together flawlessly but they do, creating a captivating tale of love and loss. The brilliant choreography by Kenneth MacMillan weaves a complete narrative, without a single movement out of place.

The most striking piece for me is the pas des trois, when Lescaut (Thiago Soares) and Monsieur G.M. (Christopher Saunders) are trying to convince Manon to leave Des Grieux and join Monsieur G.M. as his mistress. The subtle convincing this takes, the step by step seduction to the dark side is something to watch.

I do think that Thiago Soares deserves special mention here. Don’t ask me how he does it, but even though his character pimps out his sister, Soares conveys such charm in this role that one is almost tempted to call him an “adorable rascal” instead of a horrible human being.

Sarah Lamb as Manon, Christopher Saunders as Monsieur G.M and Thiago Soares as Lescaut in Manon, The Royal Ballet © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2011
Sarah Lamb as Manon, Christopher Saunders as Monsieur G.M and Thiago Soares as Lescaut in Manon, The Royal Ballet © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2011

I do not have to say how the designs my Nicholas Georgiadis give the whole ballet stunning settings. Am I allowed to feel a little bit proud since he is a fellow Greek?

Apart from being there for a performance that was probably legendary (as @attilalondon puts it) I do feel really good since the s.o. loved it. I do think that classical ballet is a great introduction to dance for most people since it has an actual plot. Modern dance – which tends to be a bit vaguer (but no less worthy) – might be a bit of an acquired taste for the beginners.

And so, on with the season.

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Disclosure: Watched Manon on 25 October 2014 and paid for our tickets. No prior discussion with the venue took place.
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