Last night I saw American Ballet Theater‘s “Manon,” the 18th Century story, originally an opera, about a French woman torn between her love of a poor young student, Des Grieux, and the monied gentleman, Monsieur G.M., to whom she has been promised by her brother, the greedy, callous Lescaut.
First, ABT’s casting has been weird lately. Originally, when I bought the ticket I’m pretty sure I was expecting to see Julie Kent perform the title role, with Marcelo Gomes as Des Grieux, and when I looked at ABT’s website recently to remind myself whom I was seeing, it indeed said Julie and Marcelo. Last night, I opened my Playbill to see an insert announcing that Diana Vishneva is ill and unable to perform, so the title role will be danced by … Julie Kent. Okay…? There were several casting changes: instead of Gennadi Saveliev dancing Lescaut, I had Sascha Radetsky; in place of Michele Wiles as Lescaut’s mistress was Carmen Corella (yay! ), and the beggar chief was Arron Scott instead of Jared Matthews. Commenter Larry on Matt’s blog had mentioned numerous casting changes happened during last Saturday’s Sleeping Beauty as well. Is ABT like one of those cruise ships where everyone onboard comes down with flu before the tour is over?!
Anyway, I was perfectly happy to see Julie — whom I was expecting to see after all — dance with Marcelo because they are so my favorite ballet couple! They work so well together, and it’s completely obvious how comfortable they are with each other. Their size and age differences to me are part of what make them so compelling, so charming, romantically endearing — she is like a china doll in his big, protective arms, and she’s so easy for him to lift, he just scoops her up into those beautiful waist-high poses then hoists her up into an overhead lift with such ease and fluidity. In a way, the way he swung her about from low slides on pointe, to those ever-sweet “cradle”-looking lifts, into flowing arched-back spins, and poetic overhead lifts, looked a bit reckless, but their love IS reckless here so it works. And, I know he’s only 10 instead of 20 years younger than she, but there is still something somewhat Nureyev and Fonteyn about them — not compeletely, but somewhat — she radiates beautiful, wise maturity and sophistication and he is all young, strong, ingenuous boyish passion.
And Marcelo is just always so cute, I can’t even handle it sometimes! As I’ve said before, he’s so everyguy, guy-next-door, which isn’t to say he’s not fully into character in these long-ago period dramas, but more that he’s so down to earth, he brings an air of realness and relatability to it. At the beginning, it’s so sweetly human when his Des Grieux feigns accidentally bumping into Manon, just to meet her. I couldn’t help but giggle. And those were definitely real kisses in the bedroom scene; I could hear the final smack he planted on her lips right before dashing out to mail his letter!
Marcelo’s free-arm-floating-in-the-air-to-make-a-line thing didn’t look awkward like it did to me in Othello, maybe because of his white, blousy, flowing shirt or maybe just because the choreography was more fluid. Still think there’s still a bit of overacting on Marcelo’s part (shaking head, head in hands, etc. — emotions I’d rather see register just in the intensity in his eyes), but I guess he is trying to project all the way to the back of an enormous house, so maybe it’s unfair to want him to act like a film actor having an on-screen close-up.
So, the others: Carmen!!! I love her so! She wore this sweetly playful but maneuvering smile all throughout. And something about the way she wears her costumes makes me want to try all of them on! She made this deep greenish / golden corseted thing with black taffeta skirt look so brilliant… Seriously, I think I’m the same size … am probably dreaming though; likely am three times her size and wouldn’t be able to pull the underneath leotard over my butt…
Some say Sascha is too small and cute-ish to emanate evil adequately, but he scares the living crap out of me when he dances these “mean” parts. In Act I, my first thought was, oh no, it’s Iago all over again, but then, in Act II after he got drunk (after Lescaut got drunk that is), the more humorous, human side of his villain shone through. He ended up doing the very wobbly, drunk-off-his-butt Lescaut better than I think I’ve ever seen it done. And he is a superb dancer.
Ditto for Arron Scott as the beggar chief. That must be very hard to do — pretending to be falling all over yourself in intoxicated stupor while doing terribly hard jumps and turns. Your balance would be so off.
Best part of the ballet though is all of those beautiful pas de deux between Manon and Des Grieux. I fear there’s never going to be another choreographer again like Kenneth MacMillan, who can make pas de deux like that — embodying poetry and beauty and sublimeness and passion and love… Maybe Lar Lubovitch — he has an edge and a wryness of course on top of all that but I want to see more…But back to Manon: query — does she HAVE to die at the end? Why can’t they just end up in America, struggling and broken with no money but still in love and surviving? Is there some unspoken rule that ballets always have to end in this gut-wrenching melodrama?
Side note: I saw NYCB principal dancer Nikolaj Hubbe during intermission talking to this guy pictured with Marcelo in this post on Matt’s blog, apparently named “Clinton” and perhaps an ABT ballet-master? (going by Matt’s blog…) Nikolaj is absolutely GORGEOUS — oh my gosh, with his hair all mussed about and in jeans — whoa!!
Also during intermission, on my way to the ladies room I ran into this attractive Russian guy in the lobby, with whom I made eye contact. During the second Act, he came down and sat in the unoccupied seat next to me … with his wife When I whipped out my notepad and pen though, he did a double-take at me, perhaps thinking I was “someone” hehe! I noticed as well a couple of other people around me noticing my pad and pen… Oh, and thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post with their note-taking methods and advice! That was fun! After going over my notes this time, which were much more legible than last, I realized I’d actually already remembered everything I wanted to say! So, I think what impresses you most stays in your mind — though it always must help to have it jotted down — AND, you look like “someone important” in the process!
“Yeah-baby!” guy from my Othello audience was there too. He actually came down to orchestra during the second Act, like he did last time, and sat a few rows in front of me. Methinks he has a thing for Julie… But then he left before curtain calls so had no chance to hoot at everyone?.. Curtain calls were actually very short, and I don’t remember Carmen taking a bow now that I think of it…