52B or not 2B
It says a lot about the strength of Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography that this Manon’s power remains undiminished despite Mia Stensgaard’s underwhelming staging. Very different in style from Nicholas Georgiadis’ original designs, Stensgaard made hers for The Royal Danish Ballet but it looks cheap and lightweight with no sense of place or atmosphere – the sets are flat and two dimensional, and I’m not convinced that puff-ball skirts have ever been the go-to outfit for prostitutes on the hunt for work.
Regardless, the choreography’s intact and with Alina Cojocaru in the lead role, it was a very moving performance. She still has her technique and the superb attention to detail in her acting turns Manon into a real person with thoughts and motivation of her own – her disbelieving despair at the death of the gaoler was both subtle and electric. Joseph Caley was Des Grieux and after a slightly clunky start with his partnering in the first act, he slowly grew into the role so that by the end he was going at it full throttle – his frantic spins after killing the aforementioned gaoler were fabulous.
Jeffrey Cirio was a feisty Lescaut, an excellent dancer, he showed he can act a bit too, a claim that’s more difficult to make stick to Katja Khaniukova, who was playing his mistress – she danced beautifully but never captured the gritty spirit of a woman in her character’s position. James Streeter was terrific as Monsieur GM, really seedy but decidedly nasty, and the rest of the cast danced well (although some of the background shenanigans, especially in the brothel scene, were ham with bacon on) of which the three gentlemen of Daniel McCormick, Aitor Arrieta and Ken Saruhashi were particularly good.
The music’s been given a freshen-up by Martin Yates, which appears to have resulted in a softer sound that doesn’t lose its grand support of the choreography. In the end, though it was MacMillan and the interpretative and technical skills of Cojocaru that won the day.
Manon runs at the London Coliseum until 20 January 2019. Tickets can be found on the English National Ballet website.