What is the point of ballet? In a modern world of multimedia do we really need pointe shoes and tulle? The sheer beauty of what the ENB has produced on stage in this latest production should be argument enough, but Manon is also a powerful and pertinent social commentary. Sure, there are pretty girls and strapping chaps in gorgeous costumes, dancing with extraordinary skill, but there is also sex, violence and the redeeming power of love. For audiences young and old, modern and traditional, Manon simply has it all.
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Kenneth MacMillan’s ravishing masterpiece tells the classic tale of a young beauty used and abused by every man she meets until a dreamy young writer shows her love and devotional all the way to the devastating end.
In the title role, Begoña Cao was radiant – a languid beauty with dreamy footwork and gestures until Aitor Arrieta’s Des Grieux ignites her heart and soul. Cao’s stillness and caged control are magnificent in that breathtaking bordello scene where she is passed from man to man, her feet barely touching the ground.
She is equally impressive in the bedroom scenes with Arrieta but then inexplicably raises the bar in the final climactic pas de deux. Her impossibly long legs create such extraordinary lines I was reminded of the great Sylvie Guillem in the same role. Sublime stuff.
Arrieta feels a little timid in the early scenes but my companion suggested this always-excellent young dancer was reading the role as the quiet supplicant, gently discovering love for the first time.
He certainly grows into the role and is finally a match for Cao in the utterly showstopping finale. I’m not ashamed to say the pair reduced me to tears as the curtain fell.
Elsewhere, Ken Sarahuari continues to impress, projecting Lescaut’s character flaws to the back of the auditorium and fully relishing the virtuoso villainy – and that crowd-pleasing drunken Act 2 solo.
He is well-matched by a sassy and sharp-footed Crystal Costa as his long-suffering Mistress.
Dancing impeccably to Massenet’s beautiful score, the company was uniformly strong, which almost seems redundant to say these days.
MacMillan’s choreography is laced with sensuality and sexuality and does not shy away from chilling notes of abuse, yet also aches with passion and sacrifice. This is an unusually great piece where the dancing evokes both emotion and reflection. It could not be more relevant in a world reeling from the uncomfortable ramifications of MeToo and more.
Simply put, as the third act in the ENB’s seasonal triple of Nutcracker and Swan Lake, Manon is a triumphant finale.
With powerhouse principals Alina Cojocaru, Jurgita Dronina and rising star Alison McWhinney also sharing the lead role, it is a glittering showpiece for the depth of breadth of the modern ENB.
THE ENB MANON IS AT LONDON’S COLISEUM TO SUNDAY: TICKETS AND INFORMATION HERE