DANCE: Manon Royal Opera House London oooo9

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The Independent Culture
KENNETH MACMILLAN'S Manon is a company ballet, full of character roles and dramatic detail. Sylvie Guillem, the Royal Ballet's French ballerina, dances it as if it were a star vehicle. Her fans are there to cheer her on, but she's in a distant orbit.

This is a vivid revival of MacMillan's 1974 ballet, performed with sweep and attack. Martin Yates conducts an animated account of the score, scraps of Massenet assembled by Leighton Lucas. Nicholas Georgiadis surrounds its corrupt 18th-century world with rags and brocades, sumptuous costumes and squalid backcloths. The corps, playing beggars, whores and clients, dance with greedy attention.

Manon is torn between love and money, falling for the young student Des Grieux but readily lured by the furs and diamonds offered by older men. Guillem is best when she's being tempted, her attention skipping from clothes to jewels to prospective clients. She's a precise actress, making much of passing moments. When she and Des Grieux quarrel over a bracelet, the repeated gestures are different each time, shading from flippancy to rage. But she has less impact in the ballet's major scenes. She's a strong stage presence, but her dancing is pallid. Manon's brothel solo is full of come-hither gestures, of flirtatious footwork. Guillem dresses it up with touches of acting detail, but she won't let her body do the talking. Her feet are unnuanced, her torso blankly upright. She does pull the stops out in her death scene: launching herself into Des Grieux's arms, she spotlights certain steps - a pose, an outstretched leg. Those moments have an icy boldness, but they are isolated effects. They don't suggest Manon's fever, fears or grief.

Jonathan Cope is a quiet, meek Des Grieux. His modesty suits the early scenes, the hero bewildered by a dangerous world. He's been more outgoing, more involved with the drama, in other MacMillan roles: I miss the attack he found in Mayerling. But his partnering is as good as ever, and he and Guillem work well together.

Thiago Soares dances Lescaut, Manon's immoral brother. He isn't always polished, but he's vividly involved with the role. His technique is strong, the jumps and turns big and unforced. Mara Galeazzi gives a hectic performance as his mistress. She rushes at her solos, showing the character's fear and energy, but missing some of the style. Anthony Dowell is forceful but mannered as Monsieur GM, Manon's rich client. William Tuckett, the brutal Gaoler, is much more immediate, caught up in his own cruelty. Smaller roles are vividly taken. Jose Martn, the Beggar Chief, leaps and spins with sleazy vigour, and Belinda Hatley and Laura Morera flounce as squabbling courtesans.

The corps are in buoyant form, dancing with verve. The ballet has some repetition, but the performance stays taut. Manon looks much juicier now than it did two years ago, at the last revival. There's a new springiness to footwork; MacMillan's onstage world looks brighter and seedier.

In repertory to 1 March (020-7304 4000)