30 March 2018 at 9.36am | 6 Comments
Manon is beautiful and impulsive, and loves romance almost as much as she loves diamonds. She meets and falls in love with the handsome young student Des Grieux and they elope to Paris. But when the wealthy Monsieur G.M. asks Manon to be his mistress she is torn between a life with Des Grieux and one of luxury.
One of the most dramatic and devastating of all ballets, Kenneth MacMillan's Manon is based on an eighteenth-century novel that was banned when it first came out in 1731, before becoming hugely popular on the back of pirated copies. Manon’s story has since inspired numerous adaptations, including operas by Massenet and Puccini and a film by Henri-Georges Clouzot.
Kenneth MacMillan believed that Manon’s story would make a fantastic large-scale, full-company ballet. But the choice of such a capricious and apparently ruthless heroine was a challenge to ballet conventions. Critics expressed reservations about Manon after its premiere – ‘basically, Manon is a slut and Des Grieux is a fool and they move in the most unsavoury company’, wrote one reviewer. However, audiences immediately took to the work, and the power of MacMillan’s choreography, as well as the continuing relevance of Manon’s message, has secured its place as a modern classic.
None of the ballet's music came from previous tellings of the story. When MacMillan came to choose the music for Manon, he avoided the Puccini opera and the music of Massenet's opera. Instead, MacMillan enlisted composer and conductor Leighton Lucas to sift through Massenet’s overtures, ballets, music for plays, oratorios and operas and to create a new ballet score. The score was re-orchestrated by Martin Yates in 2011 and remains some of the most moving and beautiful of all ballet music.
Listen to an extract from Act I scene 2
A story told through pas de deux
To tell a story based so much on the relationship of its principal couple, MacMillan started creating the choreography by focusing on the pas de deux. These are danced at key moments in the drama, and poignantly track Manon’s downfall. She and Des Grieux throw themselves at one another with passionate intensity as they fall in love in Act I and they mix playfulness with rapturous joy in their Act II 'bedroom' pas de deux. Their final, moving pas de deux in the Louisiana swamps consist of reminiscences of earlier steps.
Recommended if you like…
If you liked Manon, why not try…
- MacMillan's Elite Syncopations as part of the mixed programme: Obsidian Tear / Marguerite and Armand / Elite Syncopations Tickets are still available.
- Next Season's revival of MacMillan's Mayerling. Tickets will go on sale soon.
Manon runs until 16 May 2018. Tickets are still available. This article has been updated to reflect the current Season.
Manon will be relayed live to cinemas around the world on 3 May 2018.
The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Sarah and Lloyd Dorfman, John and Susan Burns, The Gerald Ronson Family Foundation, Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson and the Friends of Covent Garden. Original Production (1974) made possible by The Linbury Trust.