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MANON June 19-24

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Vishneva/Malakhov/Manon II, June 23

It is fascinating to watch great partnerships perform the same ballet more than once. Tonight's interpretation was radically different from Wednesday's. Tonight it was much closer to love at first sight. Once Vladimir got his nose out of the book and saw Diana, his eyes were fixed on her. When he sat in the chair on the opposite side of the stage he nearly forgot his book. When finally he did glance at it he couldn't get back into his read, had to flip back a few pages to find a place he could remember, but then put it down. As he got up to walk closer to her he used it as a prop to hide his intent, but as soon as she came over to sneak a look at it, they quickly looked at each other instead. His courtship dance was more a celebratory display, very stretched, with lyric amplitude. And the duet was a passionate rush to get to the next, bedroom, scene. Throughout the evening he seemed to find his great virtuosity of the 1990's. Diana, of course, was glorious. Her back was amazingly flexible, snaking from an "S" to its mirror image in her swan dives in the second act. As she somehow grew larger, in the stage-filling sense, he matched her by constantly increasing the power of his dancing. Acting by dancing. Again, as on Wednesday, they would not be separated in their curtain calls. While it will never be the same without Ferri/Bocca, love as real love will still live in our world of ballet, at least a little while longer.

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I caught the final "Manon" on Saturday night with Julie Kent, Jose Manuel Carreno and Marcelo the Magnificent Gomes. This was my third in a row and I was frankly shocked since I didn't think that I would make it through two. However, this was a very good remounting that minimized the longeurs and padding and maximized the talent of the principals, soloists and corps.

This cast though less idiosyncratic than Bocca/Ferri and Vishneva/Malakhov was gorgeously danced, sensitively acted and warmly human. Each of the stars was seen at his or her best. As for the three: Bocca/Ferri won on passion, Vishneva/Malakhov on complex dramatic portraiture worthy of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy and this cast on lyrical warmth and romance.

Julie Kent's Manon was not the most calculating or minx-like - she was a fallible and easily corrupted girl who had she lived to maturity would have repented of her ways. (Diana Vishneva was the least innocent and most sensual of the three and this is a very valid interpretation and supported by the Prevost novel) I have always sensed an "English" quality in the refined lyricism and understated graciousness of Julie's dancing and this role, created on Antoinette Sibley, suited her phrasing and line beautifully. I have only seen Sibley on film but suspect that in build and style there are similarities. With her hair in a high chignon with curls cascading down and wide set eyes in a lovely face, Julie was beautiful to behold. Her innocence and beauty as she came from the convent to the Inn in the first scene didn't conceal great curiousity and eagerness to experience life and love. The scene in the second half of Act I where Manon flashes her legs to Msr. G.M. on the bed to entice him showed a sensuality startling in its combination of boldness and refinement. The sensuality was understated but implied strongly. She was an aristocratic lady in the gambling scene but her willowy body did make the solo where she is carried through the air by the men effective. Her fragility and despair at her degradation in the last act had tragic pathos and depth. The choreography played to Julie's best qualities and there were gorgeous moments in each pas de deux. A fine new role for her.

José has this ability to phrase turns by slowing them down and speeding them up and this added tensiveness and texture to his solos. All of his dancing was beautifully sustained with the athleticism bound into a long line with soft beginnings and finishes. Malakhov was tempermentally and dramatically the best Des Grieux in that you could believe how this naive vulnerable young man could become the passive, self-destructive victim of his passion for a wayward young woman and let himself be degraded and brought down by her mistakes. Jose and Julio are both latin and you just can't believe they wouldn't tell Manon off or slug Lescaut when he throws money in his face and pushes him to the floor. However, Jose did seem deeply in love and truly hurt yet devoted to Manon.

One critic described Tanaquil le Clerc as having had witty legs (this was pre-polio of course), it is a shame that she couldn't dance a comic ballet with Marcelo Gomes because he also has witty legs. His long legs also look great in shiny black tights. He added little hesitations and flourishes to his first act solo that created the image of a humorous but self-regarding rake. He seemed irresistable. His first and second acts had great humor and Carmen Corella was a warmly amused and womanly Mistress. Marcelo's attempts at being a classy drunk in Act II paid off though I still think Herman was even funnier in the stumbling pas de deux. You were sad when he got shot.

Roman Zhurbin had an unpleasantly saturnine quality to his Msr. G.M. that made up for his youth. Jesus Pastor did not have enough height or physical aggression to be effective as the Jailer. Olga Dvorovenko (former dancer and ballet teacher mother of Irina) was elegantly louche as Madame. The orchestra played well and the audience enjoyed the show enthusiastically.

Critics seem to love to hate this ballet but this revival made the best case for it.

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I'm sorry it's taken me awhile to post!

I saw Friday's Vishneva/Malakhov performance, courtesy of a last-minute decision to drive to NYC, cross my fingers the whole way, and hope that student rush tickets were still available.

Caveat: I suppose part of my reaction to the performance is colored by being so far away from the stage (second to last row!) without opera glasses, though the view wasn't bad except for the inability to see facial expressions.

I'd last seen Manon in Paris (danced by the Paris Opera Ballet -- sigh) and I remember liking it a lot (though that was 10 years ago or so.) I did not particularly enjoy Friday's performance, which surprised me. I found that the ballet as a whole was relatively stagnant, and that while the dancers were proficient (obviously) I never had the sense (except for a few occasions) that there was any real "dancing" going on...just a lot of very well-done steps, or very well-done phrases...but no real overwhelming sense of movement. The choreography seemed to finally start moving during the last pas de deux -- and perhaps during the bedroom pas to a greater extent than elsewhere -- but then the ballet was over. There were bits of the choreography that I did not like at all (the seemingly random sections where Manon is lying on the floor with a seemingly disinterested Des Grieux dancing over her, the over-used grasping of the shorn hair in the 3rd act [was striking at first but then they didn't stop!], Lescaut's repetitive swigs from his bottle during the 2nd act -- it got old fast and that section would have been much more interesting if those gestures appeared as more of an afterthought than a choreographic inclusion, the reoccurring motif of small rond de jambs at 45degrees for Manon -- why? It's such a uninteresting step compared to others that could have been used, etc etc.) Overall I didn't find the choreography interesting enough to keep my attention, and the story would have been absolutely indecipherable without the accompanying program notes.

One possibility for why the choreography seems so uninspired is that the music is equally uninspiring. MacMillan's R&J is beautiful -- so the shortcomings here do not seem to be the fault of an untalented choreographer, but rather reflect a lack of good source material (a somewhat confusing story with too many smaller characters to develop and keep track of, and music that doesn't lend itself to sweeping movement.)

Onto the dancers: Vishneva and Malakhov performed their roles well, though as I mentioned, much of the facial expressions were lost...it seemed that Malakhov wasn't quite warmed up for the first act (he had a few stumbles and awkward moments, but that went away by the second act.) Vishneva's shoes were so loud that they were distracting at first (I'm used to hearing clomping from the corps, but not from the principal!) but they got softer as the performance progressed and I didn't notice them by the 3rd act. Stella was beautiful, and one of the three men in the first act (?) with the sherbet-colored costumes had the most beautiful lines (I have no idea who these characters were -- but they were dressed in shiny pink, orange, and orangey-red; I think the guy in the pink -- the tall one -- was the one I noticed.) Beggar Chief was great too. The sequence in the second act with Manon and the 4 (?) men was perhaps the most interesting sequence in the whole ballet...but what did it have to do with anything else?

Saveliev...I'd seen him a year and a half ago fall out of a double saute de basque (how on earth do you spell that!) and I saw him do almost the same thing...twice...during this performance!! (not quite the same step, but a traveling double tour/assemble ending with a small develope front.) hmm. He too seemed as though he hadn't quite warmed up enough for the first act, and he did get better. The drunken solo needs some work to make it less obvious and more nuanced. I do have to say, though, that the most striking image in the whole ballet is that very first moment the curtain opens and Lescaut is sitting center stage and is the only illuminated part of the scene -- it reminded me a bit of Salieri in Amadeus for some reason. (!)

Right. So...I'm glad I went to see the ballet, also glad I didn't pay more for my seat than I did. The overall production was visually beautiful, but clearly has its shortcomings.

[Oh!! One more thing I wanted to add: I don't know WHAT was going on in the audience, but people kept dropping keys or cell phones or items that clattered around and were incredibly distracting throughout the entire performance. oy. And then a coughing fit seemed to sweep up through the orchestra section -- I'm guessing that someone near the front was wearing really strong perfume that about 50 people happened to be allergic to as it diffused on by...] :)

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I never knew there were student discounts for ABT at the Met! That is not well publicized. Now I look it up, and I am too old for them anyway, at 25+.:wallbash:

NYCB's outreach, with $12 student rush tickets (and the chance of landing in an expensive orchestra seat), and the Fourth Ring Society a very good deal for balletomanes who aren't students, is far more inviting. I see many more young people at the New York State Theater. Not to mention it's possible to see what's going on without opera glasses there. It's really almost enough for me to switch allegiances entirely. At least the City Center season isn't totally bankrupting.

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i saw manon..um every time it was preformed and then some. in fact, ok..i was in it. i was a super, a begger in the 1st and 3rd act.

i must say this is by far one of my favorite ballets. In fact, i think this was the first ballet to evoke extreme emotion within me. it took my views on ballet to the next level.

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