whetherwax

Manon, how popular is it?

41 posts in this topic

Question: which dancers not ordinarily associated with this ballet (or even with this kind of ballet) might be especially effective as Manon? At Miami, my local conpany, I can't think of any.

I haven't seen the ballet here in US but yes, MCB definitely lacks Manon material...but there's somebody nearby who i DO associate with this role-(and who iI've seen as a great Odile...coquettish, seductive, manipulative, but not overdone)-, Hayna Gutierrez, from CCBM.

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Whoever dances Manon, she needs to be a supreme actress who, most importantly, can act young.

I wouldn't call Jennifer Penney, on whom MacMillan created a good deal of Manon, any great shakes as an actress, but she was able to create a touching, seductive character through the delicacy and beauty of her dancing -- isn't that what the art of ballet is about?

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Managed to get a copy of the RB version for under $30 in Melbourne - magic at work I think. ( I know you are all sick of my whinging about the cost of imported DVDs in Australia and the lack of titles generally but i had to have my last say on the topic).

I totally agree with everyone abpout the dancing of the principals. Penney's fragile delicasy(sp) and Dowell's precision and grace are a revelation. I take Anne's point about the steps being created on Dowell. I do however enjoy the drunken and louche antics of the Australians - they are not so obviously playing for laughs. Heathcote and Summers ARE much better than Dowell and Penney in the last act - I think because it needs RAW energy and Dowell and Penney are too elegant.

I like the look of the Aust ballet staging too. Colour and clarity.

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Managed to get a copy of the RB version for under $30 in Melbourne - magic at work I think. ( I know you are all sick of my whinging about the cost of imported DVDs in Australia and the lack of titles generally but i had to have my last say on the topic).

I totally agree with everyone abpout the dancing of the principals. Penney's fragile delicasy(sp) and Dowell's precision and grace are a revelation. I take Anne's point about the steps being created on Dowell. I do however enjoy the drunken and louche antics of the Australians - they are not so obviously playing for laughs. Heathcote and Summers ARE much better than Dowell and Penney in the last act - I think because it needs RAW energy and Dowell and Penney are too elegant.

I like the look of the Aust ballet staging too. Colour and clarity.

True! Dowell and Penney - especially Dowell - are very English and lack the rawness as you put it so well. And you're right to about the staging too, the RD-version is a bit muddy in the colours and the costumes, especially the women's, are not very flattering.

I wonder why you don't buy dvds over amazon. I got my Manon (new!) for about 10$ + shipping costs from the American amazon. You might have the problem with the codes then because you live in Australia, but if you have a dvd-player with a decoder that shouldn't be a problem. Just a friendly suggestion - you might already be aware of that possibility.

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Can it be the curate's egg quality of the music -- "good in parts"?

I think the ballet is uneven; I always enjoy it, but at the same time, I'm always a little disappointed. With a great ballet, the 'whole' must be greater than 'the parts', and Manon doesn't pass that test. I suspect the problem is not just the music, and not the choreography so much as a story that is unevenly paced and does not do justice to all the key characters.

I saw Sylvie Guillem once in this role and I couldn't believe how different she looked to the other dancers - she looked SOOOOOO French (don't laugh!).

It's never fair to judge a ballet after seeing Sylvie Guillem; you'll always come away feeling it was great :)

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Anne, thanks. The problem in Australia is the exchange rate. Au$ 73cents american at present and the postage is fierce. We are a long way away here. When the au dollar is up I have a little amazon frenzy.

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I'm quite familiar with these "amazon frenzies" :shake:. It's dangerous if they last too long!

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I remember when Alessandra Ferri danced it with Carlos Acosta in Havana in 2000. They were the talk of the balletomanes for a while...

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How come no one has linked to ABT's MET performances in 2007? There was much discussion of Macmillan, Manon, and the dancers as I remember. That year I saw Vishneva do it once (or was that '06?). Ferri & Bolle do it twice, Ethan Stiefel's Lescaut before his injury, a surprisingly funny Gillian Murphy as his mistress, and an unexpected, unannounced, but astonishing Ferri-Corella matinee.

I've always loved Macmillan's R&J (though I do recognize the many "borrowed" elements--or dare I say some choreography?--of the Cranko version) for its fluidity, and ability to accurately illustrate both the music and Shakespeare's text through both choreography AND dramatic detail. I've seen many other versions, but that is the one I always return to in my mind.

I also love "Manon", and totally agree that it needs a strong Des Grieux to make it resonate because he has less chance than Manon to illustrate the character through choreography. Also, the more corruptable characters of Manon & Lescaut need the innocence of Des Grieux to play off of. So though everyone talks about the evolving character of Manon, I also think it is very hard for someone to make Des Grieux's innocence likeable or understandable without causing contempt for his gullability or pity. So yes, good dancers are required, but also great actors are needed to make this ballet work.

And again, I am facinated by the way Macmillan can translate text and emotions and even lurid details into choreography both recognizable and understandable. Unlike the more simplistic emotions of "R&J", "Manon" has some very "adult" emotions and action, all distinctly visible in the choreography. Having never seen or heard the opera, I only know the music of the ballet, and so do not have a problem with it, but rather was more impressed by how a "pastiche" was assembled to cohere with the action/choreography.

I've only seen excerpts of "Mayerling", because I haven't had the time (or incliniation yet?) to sit through the entire dvd--since I've never seen it live. I have, however, seen "Gloria" and "Requiem" which I liked very much. Didn't he also do "The Wild Boy" for Baryshnikov way back when?--which I was rather bored with. I would very much like to see the full-length "Prince of the Pagodas", even though Britten is not a favorite composer.

All the above only IMHO.

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I also love "Manon", and totally agree that it needs a strong Des Grieux to make it resonate because he has less chance than Manon to illustrate the character through choreography. Also, the more corruptable characters of Manon & Lescaut need the innocence of Des Grieux to play off of. So though everyone talks about the evolving character of Manon, I also think it is very hard for someone to make Des Grieux's innocence likeable or understandable without causing contempt for his gullability or pity. So yes, good dancers are required, but also great actors are needed to make this ballet work.

You're right about Des Grieux: you need a believable Des Grieux as a counterpoint to Manon and all the the other dubious yet more colourful characters to outbalance the drama. The difficulty is probably to find a dancer who can make us believe both in his innocence AND in his corruptability. He actually ends up committing murder and that can be hard to believe if the dancer is too "milky".

But if well done it's a fantastic story about how fragile we all are if our life gets caught in the storms of passion. Des Grieux's gullibility always makes him realize too late what he's been trapped into, but he hasn't got the strength to free himself again, and because of his education and upbringing he's always painfully aware of the sins he commits, which makes their devastating effect on his character even worse. It's like operations without anaestetics.

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One of the big recurring themes in almost all MacMillan ballets is prostitutes of various stripes from the streetwalker to the brothel girl to the elegant courtesan. Almost every one has a grand pas for the corps du whore in one act at least. For example, in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" there is no real indication or mention that Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio et al. are carousing with whores in the street. Romeo has a childish unrequited romantic crush on Rosaline but that is the only indication of previous involvement with women. However, those frizzy-haired harlots are ubiquitous in almost every act of MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet" (and blessedly absent from the Cranko). Their role in the group dances is really way more prominent than their importance to the story would warrant.

Meanwhile "Mayerling" has that Mitzi character and a big dance in the brothel which has some historical significance since Prince Rudolf was a fast-living sybarite. I think that the prima ballerina/courtesan Matilda Kschessinskaya has been shoehorned into the full-length "Anastasia". MacMillan's really conflicted feelings about women's sexuality is fully exposed in "The Judas Tree" where the woman basically provokes the men to gang-rape her. I think either Jennifer Dunning or Anna Kisselgoff said in the NY Times that it would be a terrible thing to have a ballet like that on your conscience when you went to meet your maker.

BTW: the Royal Ballet did bring over "The Prince of the Pagodas" one summer for the Lincoln Center Festival. I saw it with the first cast of Darcey Bussell, Deborah Bull and Jonathan Cope. The original fairy tale has a convoluted story that doesn't lend itself effectively to exposition in dance. The score by Britten is not immediately appealing - rather dank and difficult in places. Bussell was enchanting but I had no desire to see the work again.

As for the dislike of MacMillan - Boris Eifman has come across the same disdain. The critical fraternity in the United States is brought up on the Balanchine "there are no mothers-in-law in ballet" dictum. Story ballets are looked at with distinct suspicion as being artistically retrograde and kitschy. I remember one critic saying that MacMillan wanted to choreograph all the ballets they that didn't get around to (or didn't dare) choreograph in the nineteenth century. Essentially that group has the opinion that MacMillan's taste was old-fashioned with derivative choreography including showy overhead lifts stolen from Cranko decorated with an overlay of cheap psychology and melodramatic mime.

BTW: a friend of mine said that she felt that while the Cranko "Romeo and Juliet" is better overall in the group scenes, the MacMillan version has the better pas de deux. She felt the best solution would be to interpolate the balcony pas de deux, the farewell pas de deux and the tomb scene into the Cranko overall structure.

"Manon" is one of the great stories of a prostitute - the bible of courtesans like Marguerite Gautier in "La Dame aux Camellias" who keeps it by her side always. Somehow MacMillan and the Prevost novel seem fated to meet.

I don't know about the popularity with audiences but major ballerinas have coveted the part of Manon. Natalia Makarova found it her best and favorite contemporary ballet role and this was backed up by many astute observers. Diana Vishneva has also made it a specialty role as did Alessandra Ferri. Sylvie Guillem was a major intepreter in London and in Paris as well - one of her best dramatic ballet roles as well. I saw Nina Ananiashvili in it with ABT and found her less than revelatory - she is really not a MacMillan dancer at all. Alessandra Ferri, MacMillan ballerina nonpareil was also dancing it with a young Bocca that season and that was the standard by which others were judged.

Anyway, no matter what audiences or critics think, major dancers want to dance the main roles and get the ballet produced. Wasn't Vishneva a major force in getting the full-length "Manon" into the Mariinsky repertory? Certainly Ferri and Bocca were major factors in getting the ballet done at ABT.

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One of the big recurring themes in almost all MacMillan ballets is prostitutes of various stripes from the streetwalker to the brothel girl to the elegant courtesan. Almost every one has a grand pas for the corps du whore in one act at least. For example, in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" there is no real indication or mention that Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio et al. are carousing with whores in the street. Romeo has a childish unrequited romantic crush on Rosaline but that is the only indication of previous involvement with women. However, those frizzy-haired harlots are ubiquitous in almost every act of MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet" (and blessedly absent from the Cranko). Their role in the group dances is really way more prominent than their importance to the story would warrant.

I, too, have noticed the ubiquitous presence of prostitutes/whores/courtesans in Macmillan and wondered. And since I am sensitive to re-arrangements, interpolations, re-interpretations of Shakespeare, I at first disliked their presence in R&J, until I understood why they are there...

I believe they are there to provide a contrast between the more carefree (careless?) youthful amour(s) of Romeo's past to the mature, committed love he has now for Juliet. (Notice Romeo rejects the advances of one of the whores in Act2, though he is still friendly enough to dance with her.) Another interpolation, the passing of the wedding party in the second act, makes Romeo pause and consider marriage himself; whereas in the play, we know he and Juliet have already discussed marriage and how they would meet the next day. Finally, I've seen productions of Macmillan's R&J, where the "prostitutes" were changed to 'gypsies' and didn't wear frizzy hair, so their presence in Verona was a little more understandable. (I didn't check to see if they still had red heels.)

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I am currently reading 'Never Mind the Moon: My Time at the Royal Opera House' by Jeremy Isaacs, who ran Covent Garden for about nine years. Mr Isaacs is a very good writer and I'm enjoying the book a lot. I'm not sure about quoting from books here, so if a moderator takes this off, so be it.

This is an account of Mr Isaacs's first encounter with Mr and Mrs Kenneth MacMillan, neither of whom he had met before. I think this is very relevant to much of this thread

"An early visitor to my office was ...........Kenneth MacMillan..............He came now, accompanied by his formidable wife Deborah. They sat on the sofa, Kenneth saying scarcely a word while she let me have it. In the past Kenneth's work had been scorned by the board and neglected by the House. I must ensure that he was properly treated, see to it that more of his ballets were given."

Isaacs goes on to praise R & J and Manon, although pointing out that the latter wasn't universally admired at the beginning. Then:

"Deborah MacMillan pointed out to me how many other works Kenneth had created for the company, some controversial at their premieres, and urged that these should be revived. Such a commitment to our greatest living choreographer would, Anthony Dowell knew, be a main charge on his necessarily limited range of programming and resource. But it was a proper one. Ashton was dead; MacMillan was able to create new ballets and we would be celebrating his 60th birthday soon. Revivals of both men's work would contend for place."

Was it at this point I wonder, that Ashton and the English style were swept under the carpet?

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Link to blog entry from June 28, 2009 "Manhandling Manon" by Philip Kennicott (culture critic of The Washington Post and monthly columnist for Gramophone).

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I am currently reading 'Never Mind the Moon: My Time at the Royal Opera House' by Jeremy Isaacs, who ran Covent Garden for about nine years. Mr Isaacs is a very good writer and I'm enjoying the book a lot. I'm not sure about quoting from books here, so if a moderator takes this off, so be it.

This is an account of Mr Isaacs's first encounter with Mr and Mrs Kenneth MacMillan, neither of whom he had met before. I think this is very relevant to much of this thread

"An early visitor to my office was ...........Kenneth MacMillan..............He came now, accompanied by his formidable wife Deborah. They sat on the sofa, Kenneth saying scarcely a word while she let me have it. In the past Kenneth's work had been scorned by the board and neglected by the House. I must ensure that he was properly treated, see to it that more of his ballets were given."

Isaacs goes on to praise R & J and Manon, although pointing out that the latter wasn't universally admired at the beginning. Then:

"Deborah MacMillan pointed out to me how many other works Kenneth had created for the company, some controversial at their premieres, and urged that these should be revived. Such a commitment to our greatest living choreographer would, Anthony Dowell knew, be a main charge on his necessarily limited range of programming and resource. But it was a proper one. Ashton was dead; MacMillan was able to create new ballets and we would be celebrating his 60th birthday soon. Revivals of both men's work would contend for place."

Was it at this point I wonder, that Ashton and the English style were swept under the carpet?

I echo your last comment and the problem was caused by Sir Fred being edged. This was an act from which the Royal Ballet has never recovered despite some excellent dancers on their roster.

Manon is popular because it is a story ballet and that is what most ballet audiences enjoy watching. I personally thinks it flags in the middle.

The best casts I have seen were Sibley/Dowell who both plumbed extraordinary depths and the first performance that Penney and Eagling gave, seemed remarkable at the time and perhaps the best performance they ever gave in any ballet.

Regarding comments made on MacMillan's prediliction for prostitutes, they have remained a feature of most cities lives across the globe for centuries and like the poor, they will always be with us. Their appearance in a ballet should not offend anyone.

Whether it reflects the choreographers personal view of women I do not know. But I do know however, that a number of women friends had always been a feature of his life.

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Link to blog entry from June 28, 2009 "Manhandling Manon" by Philip Kennicott (culture critic of The Washington Post and monthly columnist for Gramophone).

Thanks, innopac. It's a very interesting article, and a well-balanced comment on, or correction of of Sarah Kaufman's piece on MacMillan. (Kaufmann is a collague of Kennicott's.)

Kennicott makes a distinction that may or may not hold water --

I think his treatment of Manon -- a flighy courtesan -- is a portrait of misogyny rather than a misogynistic work.

I'm still thinking about the implications of Kennicott's characterization of Manon as "a small revolution in dance."

His quotes from Arlene Croce -- including this: "MacMillan pushes so insistently against the nature of his art and what it is equipped to express that now and then he achieves breakthroughs and returns a kind of strength to it which has long been absent." -- are worth thinking about.

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