MANON | London, Coliseum

Opening night for English National Ballet’s Manon at the London Coliseum played to a packed house. And not a single one of us could have been disappointed with the magic of this tragic masterpiece, which adapts music by Jules Massenet (but none from Massenet’s 1884 opera of the same name).

Kenneth MacMillan’s 1974 choreography remains as electric and captivating as the day it was crafted, and the highly-anticipated Alina Cojocaru performs the title role majestically. Our heroine is not typical of a modern ballet: we are made to feel unsure about Manon’s flighty personality, which seems ruled by greed and sure of beauty. The choreography exquisitely captures the struggle of patriarchy, and the ultimatums of women trapped within it, with staccato movements showcasing Manon’s capricious yet hesitant nature, mixed with bold, clean lines, unashamed of a dramatic pause.

In a dark tragedy, it was surprising to see moments of humour prevail. Jeffrey Ciro’s Lescaut is a masterclass in drunken pirouettes, showcasing balletic skill and provoking muffled chuckles from an audience expecting tears. Act Two provides pure spectacle, with provocative costumes (Mia Stensgaard), engaging tableaux and – at times – pure drama. As a modern ballet, it was exciting to see touches of contemporary style peppered amongst the more classical steps – and, once or twice, even a touch of Fosse glimpsed through the net skirts.

The dances in Act Three are dumbfounding: Manon’s death is executed to perfection, whilst the rape scene is astonishingly savage – a marked contrast to the frivolity in Act Two. Manon is a testament to the pas de deux, demonstrating the passion, fragility and violence that can exist between a couple. Such exciting choreography deserves to be seen by all.

Manon has a short run until 20 January 2019. Tickets from £12.

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