Sylvie Guillem, the Royal Ballet's French ballerina, dances as if it were a star vehicle. Guillem is a star, and her fans are there to cheer her on, but she's in a distant orbit.
This is a vivid revival of the ballet MacMillan created for the company in 1974, danced with sweep and attack. Martin Yates conducts a juicy account of the score, scraps of Jules 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 young Des Grieux but readily lured by furs and jewels.
Guillem is best when she's being tempted. Her attention skips flightily 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.
Guillem has less impact in the ballet's major scenes. 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. It has an icy boldness, but little vulnerability or grief.
Jonathan Cope is a quiet, meek Des Grieux. His modesty suits the early scenes, the hero bewildered by a dangerous world. But he remains mild; we don't see how he comes to kill for Manon's sake. He and Guillem have an assured partnership, easily affectionate.
Thiago Soares danced Lescaut, Manon's immoral brother. Soares 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 G M, Manon's rich client. His responses are always clear, but he isn't spontaneous. 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. Belinda Hatley and Laura Morera roar through as courtesans, dancing and squabbling with brilliant sharpness.
The corps are in terrific form. There's some repetition in MacMillan's ballet, but the performance stays taut, sharply danced.