Based on a tale by the Abbé Prévost, Manon is a creature of a corrupt 18th-century world, falling in love before falling into prostitution. She's torn between love and diamonds, between her faithful lover, des Grieux, and her wish to escape poverty. Yanowsky shows us a Manon who wants more than sex and riches: she wants independence.
When the lecherous Monsieur GM puts furs over her shoulders, Yanowsky responds as if to forbidden fruit, with a shiver of naughtiness and possibility. Displaying herself in the brothel, she dances with sensuous grandness, a new awareness of her power over the watching men.
When she returns to des Grieux, they quarrel over the diamonds she has kept. Unlike any Manon I've seen, Yanowsky isn't teasing des Grieux when she shows off her jewels: she's drawing a line in the sand. After all, she's earned them.
With tall ballerinas, the trouble is finding the right partner. Yanowsky's des Grieux is the Danish guest artist Kenneth Greve, who has the height and strength to support her in MacMillan's torrid pas de deux. Both dance with abandon, holding nothing back in the lifts and catches.
This revival has been cast from strength - and how strong the Royal Ballet is this season. As Lescaut, Manon's brother and pimp, Thiago Soares dances with a pugnacious edge, ready to take on the world. Marianela Nuñez is splendidly flighty as his mistress. The only drawback is Graham Bond's sluggish conducting of the pretty Massenet score.
The night before, the company presented another impressive cast. Leanne Benjamin is a mercurial Manon with a serious streak, showing every change of heart with crisp detail. Federico Bonelli, making his debut as des Grieux, danced with luscious texture and an air of innocence. Again, the whole cast danced magnificently. Martin Harvey is a charming Lescaut, dancing with clean authority. Laura Morera is a warm-hearted Mistress, dancing with vivid beauty. But the whole company is dancing marvellously - every whore, beggar and client brought boldly to life. A superb revival.
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