Manon: a role with room to move


Gamle Scene, Kongens Nytorv, Cph K; starts Sat, ends March 12, performances at 20:00 (unless stated) on Sun (15:00), Wed, March 1, March 4, March 8, March 11, March 12; tickets 95-695kr,; duration: 160 mins

Balletomanes can look forward to eight performances of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. The full-length ballet set to Jules Massenet’s 19th century music follows Manon Lescaut’s tragic struggle to choose between the man she loves and the man who can finance a luxury life. Abbé Prevost’s controversial 1731 novel, on which the ballet is based, is full of love, sex and violence and was banned in France upon publication. MacMillan choreographed the ballet for the Royal Ballet in London in 1974.

Karl Burnett, who has come from London to teach the ballet to the dancers in Copenhagen, allows for some variety in the interpretation of the role of Manon: she can be portrayed as more naïve, or together with her brother Lescaut as a Bonnie and Clyde-like duo.

A little less than a fortnight before the premiere, J’aime Crandall, the principal dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, conceded that her Manon is still developing. “It’s funny: when I think about the role, that can be very different from when I actually do it,” the American dancer told InOut. “I’m starting with a more naïve young version of her, maybe a bit shy and seeing a new world, but then – yesterday for example – we did a run-through of some pas de deux and something else came out that was more energetic than I expected. So that’s part of the process.”

The ballet’s first scene is set at an inn outside of Paris, where Manon first meets the student Des Grieux and the two fall in love. While they leave for his flat, Manon’s brother Lescaut more or less sells Manon off to her wealthy admirer, Monsieur GM. Manon subsequently agrees to the deal as poverty is what scares her the most and Des Grieux is penniless. But when Manon – now bejewelled and dressed in precious clothes – meets Des Grieux at a party and he is caught cheating at a card game, she flees with him. GM arrives at Des Grieux flat with the police who arrest Manon for prostitution. A brawl breaks out and Lescaut is shot.

Manon is deported to the colonies, but Des Grieux can follow her pretending to be her husband. When the jailer in New Orleans rapes Manon, Des Grieux intervenes and kills him. The couple escape into the marshland of Louisiana where an exhausted Manon collapses in Des Grieux’s arms and dies.

Crandall, who has been with the Royal Danish Ballet for six years, is looking forward to her first MacMillan production, as she has always admired the choreographer for his pas de deux and musicality. She will dance the role of Manon in one of two casts, partnered by principal Ulrik Birkkjær.