September 2003 - Sir Kenneth
MacMillan, whose career with the Royal Ballet in London spanned nearly fifty
years, is one of the most important choreographers of the twentieth century.
His sexually explicit The Invitation, created for the young Lynn Seymour
in 1960, followed by his sombre psychological explorations took classical
ballet out of the realm of mere fantasy, while his emotionally expressive
full-length works, including Romeo and Juliet, Mayerling and
Manon, gave new life to the traditional "fairy-tale" classics.
He has been the subject of an international tribute this season, when,
in addition to the programmes at the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet staged The Rite of
Spring, La Scala presented his Romeo and
Juliet, the Royal Danish Ballet staged
Manon, while in the United States, A.B.T.
presented his productions of The Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and
Juliet. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens programmed Gloria, and
San Francisco Ballet, Elite
Syncopations while dancers from Tokyo toured Japan with A MacMillan
For the tenth anniversary of MacMillan's
death, from a heart attack on October 29th, 2002, the Paris Opera Ballet
re-programmed Manon, created for the Royal Ballet in 1974, which entered
the French company's repertoire in 1990. Set to an arrangement of Massenet's
music by Leighton Lucas, and with costumes by the great Nicholas Georgiadis, it
is one of his best-loved works. International guest artists
Sylvie Guillem and Diana Vishneva arrived in Paris
for the occasion, but on Saturday, 14 June, premiere danseuse
Delphine Moussin made her debut in the title role.
Inexperienced as she was, she gave a totally believable and utterly beautiful
Touchingly young and pretty at the beginning of the
ballet as she steps lightly off the stagecoach which is carrying her to a
convent, Moussin blossomed after falling in love with des Grieux, a poor
student. She threw herself with ecstasy into the big bedroom scene in her
lover's apartment in Paris, taking every risk she could.
As Manon's brother, Lescaut catches up with her, and
persuades her to yield to the advances of an elderly but wealthy suitor,
Moussin's grand entrance in all her finery at Madame's hotel particulier was
accomplished with a shy but growing awareness of her awakened sexual powers.
She accepted the admiration of all the men with an almost childish pleasure as
her slender, supple body, made for the choreography, was lifted up and down,
turned and twisted with grace, and carried across the stage. She innocently
believes she can have everything; riches, admiration and love, and does not
realise that she is betraying her young lover as she drags him down with her .
Less perfidious than naive, she clings to her jewellery and fine clothes even
as the couple takes flight.
But she is arrested and deported to Louisiana as a
prostitute, where, forced to flee once more, she dies from exhaustion in her
lover's arms in the swamps. She's neither shallow nor cunning, more a battered
victim of events, and as such, one can identify with her completely. Delphine
Moussin's involvement in the character was overwhelming.
With her fluid movements and emotionally expressive
dancing, the final pas de deux was sublime; a moment of supreme art.
She had the supporting cast she deserved. Manuel
Legris, acknowledged as one of the world's most perfect classical dancers, who
created the role of Des Grieux at the Paris premiere in 1990, was ardent,
gentle and supportive. His dancing went from strength to strength. Giving care
and attention to each movement, he anticipated her every need.
Virile Yann Bridard
was a fine Lescaut. Although he sells his sister for financial gain, he is not
the blackened ruffian one has grown to expect, but more the misled bad boy. The
drunken duet with his mistress, the vivid Marie-Agnès Gillot, was
brilliant, and served to heighten the pathos of act three, moving the audience
from laughter to tears.
In all the many excellent casts I have seen over
the years, it was the first time I felt the full emotional impact of this
magnificent work. An exciting and memorable performance; MacMillan could have
wished for no better tribute.
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to
The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus
documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for