Kenneth MacMillan was, along with Frederick Ashton (whose The Dream is being performed by the American Ballet Theater later this season) and Antony Tudor, one of the greatest British choreographers of the twentieth century. His Manon, after Jules Massenet's opera of the same name and adapted from the classic, 18th-century French novel Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost that is the source for the opera, is a masterpiece. The current production, which returns after an interval of several years and dates from 1974, has new sets — these are unsatisfactory — and new costumes — these are somewhat better — by Peter Farmer. What really matters here, however, is MacMillan’s glorious, meticulous choreography — which soars, carried by Massenet’s beautiful melodies, orchestrated and arranged by Martin Yates — and the magnificent Ballet Theater dancers.
The sublimity of the evening performance on Wednesday, June 4th, was owed most of all to the astonishing dancing of the great Russian ballerina, Polina Semionova, in the title role, who surprised me in her ability to evince the sexuality inherent in the character. Her partner, the handsome Cory Stearns, as Des Grieux displayed an impressive virtuosity. As Lescaut, James Whiteside’s athleticism was riveting, although he lacked actorly conviction. Veronika Part as Lescaut’s mistress was dazzling and effectively worldly. The dynamism of the secondary cast and the corps as a whole — they have been superb this season — was enthralling.
The matinee performance on the same day was weaker overall but still engaging. Xiomara Reyes, who has excelled this season, danced beautifully and excitingly and captured much of the intense romanticism of Manon, especially in her exhilarating duets, but she fell short of the tragic force of Semionova. Her partner, Kevin Jackson, an Exchange Artist with The Australian Ballet, was technically accomplished but not as memorable as Stearns. Sascha Radetsky was a more plausible Lescaut than Whiteside and is a fine dancer but Whiteside’s execution was more remarkable. Isabella Boylston as Lescaut’s mistress danced elegantly but was less striking as an actress than was Part.
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