The Royal Ballets Manon review: A beloved masterpiece

With some of Jules Massenet’s most beautiful and expressive music danced within Nicholas Georgiadis’s huge, dark and deeply evocative 18th-century designs, the work has a depth and complexity involving the whole company.

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MacMillan surges through Paris’s underbelly dealing with individuals and crowds with equal dramatic impact, telling a tragic tale with a romantic spin. An irresistible combination.

If he had been watching the performance last Friday MacMillan would have pinched himself as Russian-born Natalia Osipova polished the title role not only with her exquisite technique but by portraying Manon as a full-blooded yet maddening woman of her time.

In the opening street scene, packed with dancing as well as story, she falls for student Des Grieux, danced by fellow Russian guest artist Vladimir Shklyarov. Their first duet is a combination that becomes the main tool throughout the evening for telling this heartrending story.

Shklyarov has a notorious first solo to establish his character’s dreamy personality and passionate nature, at odds with the Parisian lowlife surrounding him.

It is slow, controlled and pensive, in other words a nightmare of technical precision. At the same time he has to establish his character for the rest of the evening.

Tall and fair, Shklyarov does the trick and the audience sighs with relief. Thankfully, we know from the outset that Shklyarov has what it takes.

Despite hailing from the same cultural and dance background, presenting a physical and emotional union, the pair have their individual characteristics.

Osipova is impulsive and physically fearless while Shklyarov, though struggling occasionally with MacMillan’s precise technical demands, partners her with an easy strength. But it is the company surrounding them that MacMillan would have loved.

Marcelino Sambe as Lescaut does a wonderful job as a drunk out to earn a centime and Claire Calvert, Melissa Hamilton, Hannah Grennell and Lara Turk give continuous pleasure as do Reece Clarke, Nicol Edmonds and Fernando Montano with their all too brief pas de trois.

But MacMillan’s magical achievement is not just with the star performers. While the individual drama is played out between the two principals, the company pours into the spaces and gives us satisfaction.

Manon is playing until the middle of May and is not to be missed.

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