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American Ballet Theatre: Manon 2014

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American Ballet Theatre

Manon 2014
Ballet in Three Acts

Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Chief Executive Officer
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susan Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 7, 2014

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Manon (1993): Choreography and direction by Kenneth MacMillan, Music by Jules Massenet, Staged by Monica Parker, Orchestrated and arranged by Martin Yates, Staged by Julie Lincoln and Yuri Uchiumi, Designs by Peter Farmer, Lighting by Christina Giannelli.

June 2, 2014: Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Julie Kent as Manon, Roberto Bolle as Des Grieux, Daniil Simkin as Lescaut, Stella Abrera as Lescaut’s Mistress, Roman Zhurbin as Monsieur G.M., Alexandre Hammoudi as The Jailer, Martine Van Hamel as Madame, Craig Salstein as Beggar Chief, Alexei Agoudine as Old Man, and the Company as Courtesans, Actresses, Gentlemen, Clients, Harlots, Beggar Boys, Innkeeper, Maid, Skivvy, Townswomen, Garrison Soldiers, Ratcatcher, Servants, Guards, Footmen.

June 7, 2014: Conductor: David LaMarche, Performed by Polina Semionova as Manon, Cory Stearns as Des Grieux, James Whiteside as Lescaut, Veronica Part as Lescaut’s Mistress, Victor Barbee as Monsieur G.M., Thomas Forster as The Jailer, Martine Van Hamel as Madame, Luis Ribagorda as Beggar Chief, Alexei Agoudine as Old Man, and the Company as Courtesans, Actresses, Gentlemen, Clients, Harlots, Beggar Boys, Innkeeper, Maid, Skivvy, Townswomen, Garrison Soldiers, Ratcatcher, Servants, Guards, Footmen.

The student, Des Grieux, at a courtyard of an inn near Paris, meets Manon, as she departs for a convent. An old gentleman is attracted to her, but Manon and Des Grieux fall in love immediately and escape with money stolen from the old man. Lescaut, Manon’s brother, makes a bargain with the old man to give him Manon, but then a wealthier Monsieur G.M. also wants Manon, and Lescaut switches the deal.

When Des Grieux leaves his studio to post a letter, Manon meets G.M., through her brother, and accepts his bribery of jewels and money. Lescaut tries to bribe Des Grieux in the deal and later persuades Des Grieux to take G.M.’s money at cards to re-acquire Manon, who is now torn between her patron and her lover. Manon again rushes away with Des Grieux, after the card game goes wild, and they declare love. Manon is arrested as a prostitute, and Lescaut is shot by G.M. Manon is deported to America, followed by Des Grieux, and the jailer assaults Manon. Des Grieux stabs the jailer and escapes with Manon into Louisiana’s swamps. As they flee, Manon dies in Des Grieux’ arms. (ABT Notes).

This season, Ballet Theatre brought in borrowed sets and costumes from the Houston Ballet, designed by Peter Farmer, most of which were dingy, faded, and bland. Also this season, orchestrations and arrangements were by Martin Yates, with staging by Julie Lincoln and Yuri Uchiumi, and lighting by Christina Giannelli. In the past, the Company presented staging by Monica Parker, orchestrations and arrangements by Leighton Lucas, with the collaboration of Hilda Gaunt, sets and costumes by Nicholas Giorgiadis, and lighting by Thomas R. Skelton. I mention these details first, as I was immediately struck by a feeling of emptiness, having anticipated this sweeping, sumptuous ballet for months. The torn swamp costumes used to glow in golden light, while now they blended with the backdrop, that seemed to be lifted from a dusty attic. Up front, I hope Manon returns very soon with the original production intact.

On the very bright side, on second viewing, on the 7th, Conductor, David LaMarche, in the pit, brought out the most mesmerizing elements of this riveting score, to such an extent that there were show-stopping moments within, as well as an immediate standing ovation at the curtain. Polina Semionova, as Manon, and Cory Stearns, as her lover, Des Grieux, brought the house down with their angst-ridden pas de deux in Act I, Scene 2, in Des Grieux’ bedroom in Paris. On the 2nd, Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle, seasoned partners in these same roles, seemed more restrained, internalized, distracted. Their chemistry was more stylized, less abandoned. On the 7th, I actually thought the Semionova-Stearns duo would collapse from exhaustion, as they put their every fiber and psyche into the dramatized emotions. As Lescaut, Daniil Simkin, on the 2nd, seemed much too young, too miniaturized for this commanding role, whereas on the 7th, James Whiteside was in his stride, larger than life, threatening, unyielding.

Moreover, on the 7th, Veronika Part, as Lescaut’s Mistress, was spellbinding in the Act II, Scene 1, formal party scene, physically and theatrically suited to Lescaut, while Stella Abrera, a fine dancer, seemed ill-suited as Mistress to Mr. Simkin (also a fine dancer for other ballets). Victor Barbee was Monsieur G.M. on the 7th, with gestures befitting noble wealth and demeanor, while Roman Zhurbin was equally as fascinating in this stylized, seductive role on the 2nd. Strengthening the June 7 cast was Thomas Forster as the demonic, devilish Jailer, while Alexandre Hammoudi on the 2nd was more subdued. Martine Van Hamel was Madame, both nights, the ebullient proprietor of the Parisian Hôtel Particulier, strutting and smiling in her grand surroundings (if only the borrowed, dull sets had exemplified the grandness). Luis Ribagorda and Craig Salstein were in the role of Beggar Chief, each night, with Mr. Ribagorda less histrionic and more focused, although Mr. Salstein, on the 2nd, was comic relief.

The new staging removed some of the visual drama of the Louisiana swamp scene and Madame’s party scene, with Manon’s swooping up and down the arms, legs, backs of gamblers. In this year’s party staging, that excitement was toned down, with much action placed rear stage, in the very dim lighting (probably not to reveal the inadequacy of the scenery). I’d love to see again the original staging, and hear the original orchestrations (although there were still moments of musical magnetism), and certainly to see some fresh, new sets and costumes that maximize the grandeur of this important, MacMillan ballet. The Massenet score can be gripping, and I rushed to hear it again, to little avail, so few listening tracks or recordings for sale online. The Company, however, made the most of each scene, with Clients, Gentlemen, Actresses, Courtesans, Harlots, Beggar Boys, Townswomen, Soldiers, and more in stunning affect and rhythm. In fact, Massenet’s monumental rhythms make this ballet one that must be seen and heard more often, especially with Ms. Semionova and Mr. Stearns in the leads. Their performance was electrically charged.

Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in
Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "Manon"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at