Manon, The Guardian Review 2011 – Sergei Polunin
Manon, The Guardian Review 2011

Manon, The Guardian Review 2011

Manon – A Review


Royal Opera House, London

for The Guardian


Lauren Cuthbertson and Sergei Polunin have been spoken of as promising stage partners ever since they appeared together in Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice. But while that ballet demanded little more than wit, technique and charm, their double debut in Manon challenges them to go into darker, more complicated, and more adult terrain. And it says much about the two dancers, both individually and as a couple, that they give us readings of the ballet that are compelling and new.

For Cuthbertson, the key is movement. When her Manon arrives in Paris she is a newly hatched butterfly, testing her wings as she flits from one admirer to the next. She takes the choreography fast, and even when she settles on the handsome, ardent Des Grieux she remains restlessly in motion. Their first bedroom pas de deux goes at reckless, quicksilver speeds, one sensual experience tumbling after another.

The moment of contrast, when Manon suddenly stops, and lets herself sink into Des Grieux’s gaze, is startlingly affecting. It’s as though she has discovered a world of emotion inside herself – a treasure she didn’t know existed. By the second act, when she has traded that treasure for actual diamonds, Cuthbertson’s Manon has apparently reverted to her butterfly self, yet it’s a brittle, hard version, trapped in the net of Monsieur GM, her “protector.”

One key element that’s missing from Cuthbertson’s performance is a clear reading of Manon’s transition from love to material lust, the shiver of acquiescence to Monsieur GM’s luxury offerings. But she could not make clearer Manon’s dawning realisation that she has gambled and lost. When she’s back in Des Grieux’s arms, the force with which she twists and turns in his embrace is driven by the knowledge that whether she chooses love or money, she is doomed.

As for Polunin, he is one of the most convincing Des Grieux I’ve seen. Technically his performance has many fine things, the long, unfolding adagio of his first solo, the audacity and intensity of his partnering. With his huge solemn eyes and pale face, he is the quintessential poet. But while many others stress a heroic quality in Des Grieux’s romanticism, Polunin allows him to look vulnerable, even weak. He is poor and irresolute in a world where money, power and cunning are the only currency. Set against Jose Martin’s bracingly ruthless Lescaut, and the careless, arrogant cruelty of Gary Avis’s Monsieur GM, we can see why Manon might see her beloved poet as a temporary luxury.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: