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Manon, how popular is it?

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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'..>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.

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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....

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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.)

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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?

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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.

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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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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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[ ... ] 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.

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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

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