From their first encounter in the courtyard to the final scene in which she dies in his arms, Benjamin and Cope inject the choreography with a clarity and intelligence which makes you suspend disbelief. Cope is particularly suited to the role of Des Grieux, conveying all the strange tentativeness of his initial approach towards Manon, as well as the full force of his agony and sorrow at her death. Benjamin is a tiny figure, but hardly vulnerable, next to Cope, ideal for the ballet's perpetual man-handling which has Manon thrown, spun and dragged by Des Grieux and passed from client to client at the brothel.
The previous evening's performance, led by Sarah Wildor and Zoltn Solymosi, felt less satisfyingly cohesive. Wildor's Manon is fascinatingly voluptuous but too dreamy; Solymosi hurls himself into the work with great aplomb, but is also prone to lapse into lazy mannerism. As Lescaut, Manon's faithless, money-grabbing brother, Errol Pickford has found a role that exploits his sure technique and brings to the fore a powerful dramatic talent of which, in the past, there have only been hints.
Manon is not a ballet in which there is much opportunity for credible acting, simply because MacMillan's choreography frequently has the effect of turning the story's protagonists into caricatures. Even cameo parts are afflicted, the most laughable example being that of the Louisiana jailer who demands Manon's favours. Straddling her, he bends her leg to his crotch and then runs his hand along this "phallus" of Aubrey Beardsley proportions - at which point, the hardest thing to do is keep a straight face.
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