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#Throwback Thursday: Manon

This week's #ThrowbackThursday is Manon, sometimes called L'histoire de Manon.

Marianela Nunez and Nehemiah Kish, the Royal Ballet

Manon was choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan to music by Jules Massenet, and is based on the 1731 novel Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost. The novel has also been the basis for the 1830 ballet and several notable operas (including an 1884 opera by Massenet, though this is not where MacMillan got his score).

Act I begins in an inn near Paris, where Lescaut is waiting for the arrival of his sister Manon. Manon is on her way to enter a convent, but when Lescaut notices that the older gentleman accompanying her is very much interested in his sister, he takes him aside to come to an arrangement. Meanwhile, Manon has met a young student, des Grieux. They fall in love and decide to escape to Paris and live off the money that Manon has stolen from the older gentleman. Having come to an arrangement, Lescaut and the older gentleman return, only to find that Manon is gone. Another gentleman, Monsieur GM, expresses interest in Manon, and due to his wealth Lescaut is determined to get Manon to accept him. They catch up to Manon, who has been left alone by des Grieux while he goes to post a letter. Manon accepts GM's advances, and des Grieux is persuaded to accept the union with the promise of money.

Christopher Saunders, Marianela Nunez, and Ricardo Cervera, the Royal Ballet

In Act II, Manon is attending a party given by Monsieur GM. However, she is torn between her wealthy companion and her love for des Grieux, who is also attending the party. des Grieux tries to get her to run away with him, but she refuses, saying the time is not right, and they must first get more money from Monsieur GM. But when des Grieux is caught cheating at cards, the pair are forced to flee. Monsieur GM and the police trace them to des Grieux's apartment, and Manon is arrested as a prostitute. In the struggle, Lescaut is killed.

As punishment, in Act III Manon has been deported to America. des Grieux has followed her by pretending to be her husband. The gaoler in New Orleans is very interested in Manon, and offers her rewards in the hope that she will desert des Grieux and live with him. des Grieux breaks in to free Manon and struggles with the gaoler, killing him. Manon and des Grieux flee into the swamps of Louisiana, but while running from their pursuers, Manon is killed.

Sergei Polunin and Lauren Cuthbertson, the Royal Ballet

The ballet premiered on March 7, 1974 at the Royal Ballet. The original cast included Antoinette Sibley as Manon, Anthony Dowell as des Grieux, David Wall as Lescaut, Monica Mason as Lescaut's mistress, Derek Rencher as Monsieur GM, and David Drew as the Gaoler. While the opening night audience gave a standing ovation, critical reviews were mixed. However, the ballet continues to have a place in the Royal Ballet's repertoire today, and is also performed by several other companies.

Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley, 1974

Here's the full ballet with the Paris Opera Ballet, starring Roberto Bolle and Aurelie Dupont:

And here's the final pas de deux, performed by Sylvie Guillem and Jonathan Cope in 2005:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene


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