Manon review: Francesca Hayward’s extraordinary presence brightens this tale of love and riches

Hayward is one of the Royal Ballet’s biggest stars, and her head-turning glow and charisma make her an excellent heroine in Kenneth MacMillan’s popular ballet

Zoe Anderson
Thursday 18 January 2024 13:03 GMT
Francesca Hayward in ‘Manon’
Francesca Hayward in ‘Manon’ (Foteini Christofilopoulou)

The plot of Manon is driven by how much everyone wants the heroine. In the title role of Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet, Francesca Hayward has a glow and charisma that turns all heads. From the opulence of the brothel to her prison rags, her extraordinary presence shines out, disrupting everything around her.

Created in 1974, and going on to become one of the most popular in the Royal Ballet repertory, Manon is an 18th-century tale of riches and desperate poverty. Manon’s brother Lescaut is urging her into expensive prostitution when she falls for the naive Des Grieux. Trying to have both love and riches, she ends up losing everything.

One of the Royal Ballet’s brightest stars, Hayward has a ravishing flow of movement, with mercurial speed and temperament. Her Manon soaks up admiration but she’s not a passive object of desire. As she dances with Marcelino Sambé’s elegant, ardent Des Grieux, her gaze turns hungry. In the decadent trio of Manon, her brother, and her rich patron Monsieur GM, she is swung between the two men, both languid and calculating. As she allows them to wind her into different shapes, we can see her making choices.

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