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Manon, how popular is it?


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#1 whetherwax

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Posted 15 September 2008 - 11:11 PM

I've just seen Manon for the first time. I had good seats and I was completely knocked out. It seemed such a modern story although set in pre revolutionary France. (People tell me the Aust Ballet DVD is as good as the live performance so that's next for the piggy bank)
As well, the choreography was so fresh and the mixture of humour and tragedy was very acutely resonant for aspects of our times. As I trawl through this site I'm not finding much comment. Also I wonder whether the Bolshoi, Maryinsky or POB, DO manon? None of them feature on u tube.There is a great Bolle Ferri last scene there though.Do people generally like this ballet?

#2 Andrew73

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 12:22 AM

Do people generally like this ballet?


For me, it's one of MacMillan's best*; I've only seen the Royal Ballet's version, but I've always enjoyed it, and I think it's well received in London every time. I think it's important for a full-length ballet to have a strong story to tell - and Manon certainly does.

"Ironically, the ballet contains none of the music from Massenet's opera Manon, with which it shares an almost identical story. The music ... is drawn from other works by Massenet" - Wikipedia

*I'm not a great Macmillan fan, I have to confess!

#3 JMcN

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 03:45 AM

I absolutely adore Manon. For me it is a timeless joy to watch. I've mostly seen it with the Royal Ballet. My first, and never forgotten, Manon was Lesley Collier with the late Julian Hosking as her Des Grieux.

For me, it's a very well structured ballet with lots of exciting choreography and a vividly told story. There is plenty of opportunity for the leading dancers to build their characters. I love the orchestration of Massenet's music.

As well as the RB, I was also fortunate to see the RDB in a couple of performances just over two years ago. They had different costumes and I've got to say that the girls' costumes in the brothel scene were amongst the most hideous I have ever looked at! The others were fine though. One thing I really liked about the RDB production was that in the final pdd there were no mangroves hanging down, just the stage as a black box. It allowed us to see every nuance of this climax. I will never forget the performance that Caroline Cavallo and Andrew Bowman gave. My friend and I were completely beyond the power of speech for quite some time afterwards. I was similarly affected by a performance by Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg at RB a few years ago.

#4 bingham

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 04:30 AM

Manon is more popular and liked in Europe than in the USA. It is not as well liked as Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet.ABT and Houston Ballet has done the ballet in the past.
American critics are usually dismissive of this ballet except for the main duets of the main characters.

#5 Mashinka

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 05:17 AM

Manon is massively popular almost everywhere and I'm given to believe it is now the ballerina role that is most aspired to. Rather amusingly I remember going out to dinner with some friends a couple of years ago when one of them unexpectedly brought along with him one of the Kirov's principals, when complimented on her performance in one of the classics, she replied "I don't like dancing it, my favourite role is Manon". I'm told that's typically now.

Makarova, Guillem and Seymour have all given incredible performances in the title role, but I always feel that De Grieux is harder to bring off (Nureyev was hideously mis-cast in it).

JMcN, you have just ruined my day as I'm now sitting here seething with jealousy. Caroline Cavallo and Andrew Bowman - what a cast!

English National Ballet will add Manon to the repertoire later this year, another company to add to the list of those dancing this work.

#6 JMcN

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 07:34 AM

Mashinka - I'm sorry to have ruined your day - yes they were totally wonderful!

I'm seeing ENB perform Manon in Manchester on 11th November. I'm hoping they'll be bringing it to Liverpool next year.

#7 innopac

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 01:10 PM

I've just seen Manon for the first time. I had good seats and I was completely knocked out. It seemed such a modern story although set in pre revolutionary France. (People tell me the Aust Ballet DVD is as good as the live performance so that's next for the piggy bank)


Wetherwax, are you are able to watch NTSC, non region 4 dvds?

My suggestion is to look on youtube at the two versions available on dvd before you buy:
Massenet - Manon / Penney, Dowell, Wall, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden
Massenet - Manon / Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Australian Ballet, Justine Summers

My favorite is the Penney and Dowell version.

There is a clip on youtube that is "Part 7". I am sure that is not Dowell and Penney. But there are at least two other clips if you search Penney Dowell Manon.

#8 SandyMcKean

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 01:18 PM

Massenet - Manon / Penney, Dowell, Wall, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden
Massenet - Manon / Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Australian Ballet, Justine Summers

Both are available on Netflix

#9 Ann

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 03:13 PM

'..>Manon is more popular and liked in Europe than in the USA<...'

A bit of an understatement, Bingham. As far as I can recollect from much earlier threads here, 'Manon' is (to put it rather mildly) actively disliked in the US, as is most of MacMillan's work apart from 'Romeo & Juliet'. I can only suppose that this is because MacMillan is too starkly realistic for American tastes, at least as far as classical ballet is concerned. A pity, and an especial pity in the case of Manon, because no matter how many times I have seen this often luridly over-the-top ballet, I find myself heedlesly swept along its drama, and never fail to find new and surprising things in it.

A younger, newer US ballet audience will judge Manon quite differently, I think.

#10 SandyMcKean

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 03:28 PM

.....because MacMillan is too starkly realistic for American tastes.....

Ann, I know very little about MacMillan (I wish I did). I am very curious about what you mean by "starkly realistic". Maybe I could learn something here. Thanks.

#11 Ann

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 04:06 PM

Sandy, I simply mean that he deals in the reality of human life instead of the fairy-tale stuff which makes for most of classical ballet. His ballets (some of them anyway) show sex, violence, jealously, death etc. - he's interested in the dark side of life, and he can choreographic it stunningly. Even his lovely 'Romeo & Juliet', which has to be one of the most swooningly romantic ballets ever choreographed, didn't shirk from violence and bloodshed nor, I have to say, from the subjugation and humiliation of women, another aspect which - regrettably - was never far from MacMillan's work.

I could go on, but it's 1 a.m. here in the UK and past my bedtime....

#12 SandyMcKean

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Posted 16 September 2008 - 09:36 PM

I could go on, but it's 1 a.m. here in the UK and past my bedtime....

That's plenty....thanks. I get the distinction now.

Curiously, what you say captures my interest in spite of me being an American :clapping:. I'd like to see some themes like that. (Lately here in Seattle we had an fantastic stage production of Streetcar Named Desire. I thought at the time how much I'd like to see a ballet based on those characters. I guess MacMillan would be my man.)

#13 innopac

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 01:52 AM

I have read elsewhere comments that the degradation of women is one of the confronting aspects of MacMillan's work. But it seems to me that he is true to the subjects that he chooses.

If Manon, Mayerling or Judas Tree were plays or novels wouldn't the same threads of sexual desire and subjugation run through them if they were to be historically and psychologically real?

Is part of the issue here that MacMillan chose subjects that people feel are not appropriate to ballet?

#14 bart

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 04:06 AM

What an interesting topic. Maybe it will, indeed, tell us something about the differences in the way American and European audiences (and possibly men and women?) approach story ballets. Please ... keep your thoughts coming!

Of the full-length MacMillans I've seen, it seems to me that those which demand the least narrative exposition are the best.

R&J's story is familiar, so the story-telling is less detailed and literal.

Mayerling is a much inferior story, not at all familiar to most in the audience, so there's a great deal of uninteresting exposition and padding, use of stock characters and dumb-show gesturing, etc. I've seen this turgid melodrama once on stage and once on video and both times could not wait for it to end. (The virtue of video is that you can stop the action and do something else for a while.)

Manon, which I've seen several times on stage, is somewhere between those two. For me, it's dramatically effective, especially in the creation of subsidiary characters. However, when it comes to the presentation of Manon and Des Grieux, the whole thing was curiously unmoving. A major problem is the score. The stitched-together, sort-of-familiar Massenet music seems like something added afterwards to support the action. Or vice versa. Somehow, it makes no difference.

By the time Manon and DeGrieux find themselves in the swamp, where she relives her life and meets her fate, I find myself feeling that everything has already gone on too long.

The story of Anastasia is more interestisng than Manon and more effectively told. The music -- and the way MacMillan uses it --is powerful and better integrated with the story than is the case with Manon.

I care about Juliet; I care about Anastasia. I miss them when their ballets are over. But I don't care much about Manon.

#15 Cygnet

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 09:33 AM

Mayerling is a much inferior story . . .


Bart, I agree. He tried to cover too much. MacMillan crammed drug abuse, deviant behavior, sexual obsession, political activism & revolutionary intrigue, oedipal tendancies, sexual assault, body-snatching/fraud, and other things, that quite frankly, are just too much to digest in three acts. It's based on historical cover-up/scandal/conspiracy and deals with people who actually lived rather than fictional characters. It's like a "Nixon in China" of the ballet - historical facts vs. legend and speculation. I've always thought that this ballet was more a danseur actor's ballet than a ballerina's showcase. It's one of the few ballets where the male is the tragic lead. After all that's come before it, the offstage gun-shots at the end of the final pdd always seem to me like anti-climax. You say to yourself, 'thank God it's over.' That said, the prologue and epilogue at Heiligenkreuz cemetary is just too macabre for words. In my experience, only Seymour/Wall (the originals), Ferri/Jeffries, then Durante/Mukhamedov successfully pulled this ballet off. It's not a work that one wants to return to over and over.

Manon, which I've seen several times on stage, is somewhere between those two. . . A major problem is the score. The stitched-together, sort-of-familiar Massenet music seems like something added afterwards to support the action. Or vice versa. Somehow, it makes no difference. By the time Manon and DeGrieux find themselves in the swamp, where she relives her life and meets her fate, I find myself feeling that everything has already gone on too long.


"Manon" stands and falls on the leads. If the Manon and Des Grieux do not grab you with their instense passion for one another in the very first pdd, it's a marathon to the Bayou. I remember that one of the earliest criticisms of "Manon" was that the music, though beautiful in certain moments and segments, was piecemeal and rhythmless for dancing. If you listen to the Bonynge CD, it doesn't seem completely cohesive as a ballet score. It sounds more like a movie soundtrack before the film gets to the cutting floor. Contrast the Manon score with the Tchaikovsky works put together for "Onegin;" - there's a huge difference, but it's also a comparable tale, derived from great literature, that's just as powerful and tragic. Massenet didn't compose for the ballet; Tchaikovsky's general output as a composer always seemed more conducive to dance, being rhythmic, lyrical and dramatic, ("Onegin" & "Anastasia," etc.). This is true
as well for Prokofiev ("R & J," "Cinderella," "Ivan the Terrible," etc.), very rhythmic, syncopated and non-syncopated, lyrical and dramatic.


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