English National Ballet - Kenneth MacMillan's Manon - Milton Keynes Theatre - ATG Tickets (atgtickets.com)

There’s not a word spoken in the English National Ballet’s
production of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon but such is the power of dance and the
clarity of the storytelling in this beautiful performance that you’ll leave the
theatre with your head full of imagined dialogue, swearing to yourself that you
were privy to intimate exchanges that hang in your consciousness like a
half-remembered dream. You simply understand.

If you reckon that ballet is about the unworldly and ethereal
you’re in for a dazzling awakening. The story, of young
girl named Manon who must choose between her love for a penniless student, Des
Grieux, and the diamonds, furs and riches that the lascivious and degenerate
Monsieur GM can give her, is much more than a historical tragedy: grooming,
trafficking, sexual exploitation and the power exerted by corrupt men remain a
sickening commonplace in our own world.

This particular ballet is a modern in
another sense: it’s a high-culture mash-up that any hip-hop fan would recognise.
When legendary choreographer Kenneth MacMillan first thought of staging Manon
as a ballet in 1973, he chose not to use existing works by Puccini and Massanet
but rather he chose to pillage Massanet’s back catalogue to piece together a
score that would suit the dark sensuality of his vision.

And what a vision. Unlike many ballets in
which there is a total dependency on the principal dancers it’s a fabulous
ensemble piece, the stage packed with people as the tale takes you through the
drawing rooms, stews and brothels of Paris before coming to a tragic end in the
swamps of Louisiana. The party in the gambling den, in which Manon revels in
her diamonds while Des Grieux despairs, is the spectacular and captivating heart
of the second act. The third act,  in
which Manon is convicted of prostitution and sent to a penal colony in New
Orleans, hinges on a moving scene in the dockyard, the new female convicts
moving like broken dolls as they embrace their degradation.

The chemistry
between Jurgita Dronina (Manon) and Isaac Hernandez (Des Grieux) is powerful,
no more than in the fiercely erotic pas
de deux
that dominates the latter part of the first act. As Monsieur GM,
Fabian Reimar has the gift of a sneer of cold command and depravity but it’s
Ken Saruhashi’s limber, lithe and louche Lescaut, Manon’s rascally brother, that
catches the eye.  It’s always a pleasure,
too, to hear an orchestra on top form: the English National Ballet Philharmonic
under Gavin Sutherland make an immeasurable contribution to the production.

If you’ve
never been to the ballet before, this is an exceptional production to start. If
you’re already hooked this is an exceptional production to savour. In any case,
don’t miss it.  

Manon is at
Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday Oct 27