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Manon, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review with pictures

Theatre & Comedy | Published:

It isn’t one of the best-known ballets, and as I collected my ticket for Manon, streamed live from Covent Garden, I was flatteringly warned that the Festival Centre audience would be ‘exclusive’.

Sarah Lamb as Manon and Vadim Muntagirov as Des Grieux. Picture by: Alice Pennefather

Exclusive and blessed, it turned out, as I’m sure the 50 of us enjoyed it enough for 500.

Enjoyed is perhaps too comfortable a word - for this is a ‘story’ ballet of the darkest hue. It starts in a rowdy city street, moves to a brothel, and ends in a Louisiana swamp.

By the end a lady sitting behind me was sobbing out loud. We had just watched what Darcy Bussell called 'one of the most beautiful and dramatic pas de deux in ballet'.

Kenneth Macmillan created this ballet in 1974 using music culled from a number of operas, orchestral suites and songs by the romantic-era composer Massenet – though not from Massenet’s opera Manon.

The story is based on the 1731 novel by Abbé Prévost. It follows the young, impoverished Manon who arrives on the outskirts of Paris on her way to a convent.

Sarah Lamb as Manon. Picture by: Alice Pennefather

Amidst bustling crowds she meets the handsome Des Grieux and they fall in love. But her brother Lescaut steers her towards the older Monsieur GM and Manon is easily seduced by the riches he bestows on her and the security this represents.

Macmillan’s crowd scenes were an utter joy to watch, despite the depravity they often display. Ryoichi Hirano as Lescaut, gave us a brilliantly tipsy but acrobatic solo with a flagon of wine before joining Kristen McNally as the Madame in a hilarious comic routine.

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There were no laughs in the scenes of sexual degradation Manon suffers. The dance where Manon is pulled around between the manipulative Lescaut and the lascivious Monsieur GM was choreographed so cleverly as to both captivate and repulse.

The several pas de deux of Sarah Lamb’s Manon and Vadim Muntagirov’s Des Grieux held the audience spellbound. Manon sat and watched, naïve and tender, as he danced to the most sublime music.

You could feel her falling in love, and when she joined him in dance it was as if she was floating on air.

Their second dance together, fresh from the bed in his lodgings, is more nuanced as her life became more complicated.

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Gary Avis as Monsieur GM and Sarah Lamb as Manon in Manon. Picture by: Alice Pennefather

And then there is that final pas de deux which saw Manon gaunt and close to death following exile to Louisiana when their plan to cheat Monsieur GM failed.

If we had felt her fall in love, now we surely felt her die. It was devastatingly beautiful.

All credit to the Festival Centre for programming which seeks to cater to all sections of the community and is not shy of screening brilliant but less well-known productions.

They’re doing it again in October with Mayerling – another ballet choreographed by Macmillan, with music compiled from existing works by Liszt.

By John Hargreaves

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