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Manon, how popular is it?


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#16 Ann

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 03:52 PM

Cygnet, Bart, I absolutely agree with you about ‘Mayerling’ – an over-complicated mess of a ballet - MacMillan’s ambition outstripped his abilities here. I have no idea why it ‘s still so popular with UK audiences, but it is.

Whetherwax, As far as I know, the Kirov (Maryiinsky), POB , Australian Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet all do Manon , though I understand it has now been withdrawn from the Kirov repertory because of problems with the rights holder. Apart from the Royal Ballet, the Australian Ballet is the only company to have issued a commercial recording (the Royal’s is by far the best, in my opinion). The POB performance I attended several years ago was a huge disappointment; despite wonderful dancing the whole thing was over-polite and rather gutless – as one critic aptly put it, they danced it ‘as if they were dancing ‘Sleeping Beauty’ ‘.

Next month, the Royal will be starting a run of ‘Manon again and I’ve booked to see two casts; this Autumn English National Ballet will be performing it for the first time. I can’t wait.

#17 whetherwax

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Posted 17 September 2008 - 05:35 PM

This is so interesting.! As far as the music goes I hadnt encountered Massenet and although I see that there is no integrity in the overall score , I like the way there are little motifs used with each character. I love the sumptuousness of the score. I have bought the Aust DVD although Innopac and Ann both like the Royal one ( Only AUS 29 dollars!! enchange rate appalling and likely to remain so). I do find that Aust Ballet has lots of brio and looks marvellous . Nigel Burley is a great Lescaut , Justine Summers is breathtakingly pretty and dances well but was a little too young when it was filmed for the acting skill to have kicked in. Stephen Heathcote does wonderfully ( He played Monsueir GM in the live version ) but he too is a little unconvincing in the acting at the end. I was impressed by Ferri and Bolle on U tube. Because he is so tall and she so small the dancing had a very powerful feel in the last moments - an emotional blast.
As far as the degradation of women goes I admire MacMillan for trying to deal with such issues. It is not as if they dont exist and certainly in the past when women had no economic security they were certainly at the mercy of degrading forces. Actually many ballets - even the fairytale ones - deal indirectly with female degradation. Giselle and Swan Lake come to mind - the heroines were dead keen to get their men to swear fidelity ( read economic security).

#18 Mashinka

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 04:20 AM

Mayerling and Anastasia both came along after popularly successful films with Omar Sharif and Ingrid Bergman with Yul Brynner and I've often wondered if they had some effect on MacMillan. Both were close to being real stories, but both were prettified versions of the truth. Neither ballet works for me: Anastasia's last act is completely at odds with the previous two and Mayerling is lumbered with too many characters that are impossible to identify on stage until about your fifth viewing.

I gave up watching MacMillan's R&J years ago as it has changed radically over the years and no longer has any dramatic impact, also for those familiar with Cranko's earlier version, it did seem that MacMillan was guilty of a spot of plagiarism where R&J was concerned. Manon is a different story though, remaining stubbornly popular with dancers and public alike in spite of the shortcomings already outlined. His other full-lengths were Isadora, the worst ballet I have ever seen and soon to be revived in a shortened version, and Prince of the Pagodas, not a popular success, but in my view his best 3-acter.

Frankly I'm baffled as to the dislike of MacMillan's work in America as he was a prolific choreographer and there is as much to love among his works as there is to hate. Song of the Earth, Gloria and Requiem for example are masterpieces though not so well known as his full-lengths. a great deal of his best stuff is rarely performed or even forgotten while dross such as The Judas Tree and My brother My Sisters are still performed far too often - it's enough to make you weep.

#19 Ann

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Posted 18 September 2008 - 03:30 PM

Mashinka – Surely ‘The Judas Tree’ is not performed ‘far too often’? It‘s scarcely performed at all as far as I can see - hardly surprising considering its subject matter. It’s a shame that this was the last full-length work MacMillan created – personally I prefer to remember him for another late work, the lovely ‘Winter Dreams’.

Although I didn’t entirely like his ‘Prince of the Pagodas’, I can’t help wondering if Americans ballet audiences might have felt differently about MacMillan had they been given a chance to see this work . With its often lovely choreography, it’s stunning sets and its other-worldly fairy-tale theme, there would surely have been nothing for them to dislike (though admittedly the Britten score is not to everyone’s taste).

Whatever the reason, I do think it ‘s sad that this uniquely gifted choreographer is so dismissed by the important American audience.

#20 Anne

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Posted 21 September 2008 - 07:19 AM

I often wondered why MacMillans Ballets were not discussed more often in this forum, but I can see that there's plenty of interest, as soon as the topic pops up! Sometimes MacMillan's ballets are dismissed as bad taste, and after having seen Mayerling on video I somehow understand why. Like Bart wrote, one only waits for it to end! But with Manon it’s quite another matter, I simply think it’s one of the best story ballets in recent years, only equalled by Cranko’s Onegin and Neumeier’s Romeo and Juliet. And I love the music, though there's not much left of Massenet in it!
The only weakness is it’s overlength, many of the crowd-scenes in the street or in the brothel could easily have been shortened.
My first encounter with Manon was a performance with the RDB with Rose Gad and Mads Blangstrup. She had all the right qualities for Manon: the perfect looks, exuding this confusing mixture of naivety and calculation, which is necessary to make the story believable, and then of course great dancing. Blangstrup was a bit blank in the role as des Grieux and had some difficulties with the many adagio solos, which aren’t exactly his field. I thought these solos were boring until I saw them performed by Anthony Dowell on the RD-video. It is so obvious that these solos are made for him, suddenly they make sense and he can fill these steps with meaning. He is not my favourite dancer (his lack of turnout always disturbs me, but I love his lightness and seeming effortlessness), but he has all the right poetic qualities for this part.
I have seen the Australian dvd too, and I think it has some good qualities, but it’s not half as good as the RD-version. It has a lot of smooth dancing, but when it comes to characterization and timing it’s far behind the older version. Especially the first pas de deux of Manon and des Grieux is beyond all comparison: when one has finally got used to Jennifer Penney’s long and ”flaky” arms and her 70’es looks, most other performances seem pale and insignificant. What is also good about their perfomance is the timing, especially in this pas de deux and in the next one in the flat of des Grieux. It is so close on the music, it’s thrilling.
Thrilling too is the drunken pas de deux of Lescaut and his mistress in the second act: What David Wall and Monica Mason can do togehther is a small wonder in elegant timing, all these nearly-catch-the-hand-and-missing-it and all the nearly-stumbling (not to mention the final black out where he falls flat on the back, I still don’t understand how he manages without getting hurt) are so hilarious, I can see it again and again! Compare that pas de deux with the Australian version, and the Australians fail completely.
But I think the Australians win in the third act of the ballet. Justin Summers and Steven Heathcote
are much more moving in the final tragedy than Penney and Dowell (one just doesn’t believe it when Dowell takes to the knife!), and their dancing is more passionate and effective too.

#21 Andrew73

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Posted 21 September 2008 - 08:25 AM

Surely ‘The Judas Tree’ is not performed ‘far too often’? It‘s scarcely performed at all as far as I can see


Some might argue that 'scarcely performed at all' is still too often. :)

#22 dirac

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Posted 22 September 2008 - 03:21 PM

Surely ‘The Judas Tree’ is not performed ‘far too often’? It‘s scarcely performed at all as far as I can see


Some might argue that 'scarcely performed at all' is still too often.


I'm disposed to agree with you. :blink:

#23 whetherwax

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Posted 25 September 2008 - 02:28 PM

Bart also had another clever little question about the differences in male and female responses to Manon. In some ways the ballet could be seen as a little chick - lit except for the tragic ending. (The romance is clear to see.) One's response can only be abstract here but I would have thought this was a ballet for everyone.

#24 bart

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Posted 25 September 2008 - 05:57 PM

[ ... ] but I would have thought this was a ballet for everyone.

I guess I'm unregenerate in my ambivalence about this ballet. Having just seen Rene Fleming and Ramon Vargas in the Cour-la-Reine and St. Sulpice scens (HD-Live performance of the Opening Night Gala), I realize that I am similarly conflicted about the opera. Can it be the curate's egg qualiti of the music -- "good in parts"?

Whetherwax, concerning the posibility that men and women respond differently to the Manon story: I thought I'd test my hypothesis at the Met performance. I asked 4 women and 3 men what they thought of Manon the opera, both story and music. 2 of 4 women loved dit; 1 liked it but had reservations; 1 had never seen it but thought Renee Fleming wonderful in these scenes. All 3 men had seen it several times and did not look forward to seeing it again. Not a scientific study of course, but I wonder how typical these results might be. :clapping:

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.

#25 JMcN

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Posted 26 September 2008 - 12:33 AM

I think Manon as a character is very hard to quantify and, over the years, I have seen a number of interpretations.

She needs to be an innocent cocquette who is manipulative but greedy!

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!).

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

Dancers I would like to see as Manon (I am very biased by the way):

Nao Sakuma (BRB)
Ambra Vallo (BRB)
Georgina May (NBT)
Pippa Moore (NBT)

Dancers whom I would like to have seen and will never get an opportunity

Trinidad Sevillano

#26 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 26 September 2008 - 06:55 AM

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.

#27 EAW

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Posted 26 September 2008 - 08:52 AM

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?

#28 whetherwax

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Posted 01 October 2008 - 02:28 PM

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.

#29 Anne

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 07:59 AM

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.

#30 Andrew73

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 03:07 PM

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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