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Royal Ballet Live Screening of Kenneth MacMillan's Manon Magnificent

by Rita Kohn
October 16, 2014
AMC Castleton Square 14
6020 E 82nd Street
Indianapolis, IN 46250
Rita Kohn is a member of the Board of the Dance Critics Association
Royal Ballet Principals Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli performed the roles of Manon and her poet lover Des Grieux for the Oct. 16 worldwide screening via Fathom Events. Spot-on camera work carried us into the interior of their dramatic choices, revealing the frailty and vulnerability stemming from poverty. For Manon it is fear—for Des Grieux it is frustration. Their story plays out against Ricardo Cervera's Lescaut, who effects the role of a dancing dog who trades his sister for the bare bones of luxury tossed to him by Monsieur G.M. Manon is trapped by her inability to discern the possible from the probable.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan's genius in devising his choreography lies within the juxtaposing of life at the bottom against life at the top. It's a scramble at either level, and the rub is in punishing the females whose only way to rise up is through getting down. MacMillan sets the three demanding and gorgeous Manon-Des Grieux pas de dues against seeming lackluster corps dancing—yet that's what heightens the intensity of the principals' emotional quandary.

Act One sets the lovers up against a hubbub of layers of society. If humanity is present, it's in the framework of Des Grieux. Act Two makes us want to pity Lescaut, the cad who can dance a drunk with such spot-on finesse. Yet here he too shows us vunerability. He has to fetch for a master to earn a scratch where he can't reach. And we want to hate Manon. Yet Nuñez also takes us into her psyche as she flirts and extends her power of enticement with anyone present, always calculating a way to toy with G.M. and maybe just maybe keep the gowns, furs and jewels while finding a way out—is she scheming or settling? Like Scarlet O'Hara, Manon's internal vow is "never to be hungry again." Yet there's more to her physical hunger than luxury. The depth of passion with Des Grieux is in her bones. She can resist this reality only so long.

MacMillan's choreography plays this out in grueling cascades. Technique must be at its highest to dance this ballet. Act Three takes us into the steamy port of New Orleans and its contingent swamps. What protection is there for a doomed woman? Nuñez and Bonelli are at their epoch here and this is where watching in a theatre has a power and intimacy beyond the enchantment of being in London during the living moment. Nuñez and Bonelli become kin to you and you sob for the ultimate despair. Nuñez must show us why death has become Manon's viable option. Bonelli must show us how Des Greiux possibly can live on. For us, we must accept this inevitable conclusion as a cautionary tale that plays itself out on a daily basis in every corner of the globe.

I don't know how I would feel seeing this live with all its attendant aspects. Experiencing Manon through the eye of cameras artfully edited into a fused vision, it's breathing with the characters. And they haunted me for many days afterward.

The 2014-15 Royal Ballet Cinema Season continues with Christopher Wheeldon's Alice in Wonderland on December 16, The Winter's Tale on February 17, 2015, the eternal Swan Lake on March 19, 2015 and concluding with La Fille Mal Gardee on May 5.

It's a boon to experience the backstage additions with retired Royal Ballet principal dancer Darcey Bussell.
More at www.fathomevents.com

Photo © & courtesy of Alice Pennefather

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