Tuesday, October 28, 2008



It’s the same old story: beautiful girl – no better than she should be with a brother as a pimp, falls in love with a penniless student and - motivated by greed, becomes a rich man’s mistress. We know it will all end in tears and it does. The student is persuaded to cheat at cards, is denounced by the rich man who shoots the brother and discards Manon. As an illegal prostitute she is deported to New Orleans, is raped by the Gaoler and, overcome by the heat, anxiety and the journey, dies in a Louisianan swamp in the arms of her lover.

I had always imagined Manon as an experienced courtesan so was flummoxed when she first appeared as a pure, innocent young girl. Still - within a trice she was in bed with the student and before you could say sugar daddy she was seduced by a fur coat and jewels and had swanned off with the rich man.

In act 2 there is a very funny pas de deux with the brother Lescaut who is drunk as a skunk, and then poor Manon suffered a costume malfunction. Her dress of many layered gauzy skirts dropped one, which trailed interminably round her exquisite feet. It was so moving to see her handed from one powdered, bewigged male to another, with such gentleness and care, to protect her from tripping over the dread trailing skirt - I didn’t breathe until she slipped into the wings and returned almost instantly minus the offending layer. One imagines heads will roll in the costume department.

The ballet is by the late Kenneth Macmillan and the haunting music by Massenet. It was a very large orchestra – seats had been taken from the auditorium to make space and they were superb.

The sets were simple but effective; in the second act there was a fug effect suggesting cigar and cigarette smoke so real you could almost smell it. It seemed to be done with lighting. The swamp mist in the third made me wonder if dry ice had been used. Whatever – it worked. The English National Ballet is a bit of a misnomer as only one member of the cast had an English name but then the great Alicia Markova was really Lillian Alicia Marks and the divine Margot Fonteyn was Peggy Hookham.

The ballet was at the Bristol Hippodrome and we found a coffee place close by, to tackle the cross word until it was time for lunch in an Italian restaurant near the theatre. We didn’t want long trails in the uncertain weather. The restaurant was full of children (half term?) and students and we couldn’t believe the amount of times some of them went up for seconds – which they were allowed - MTL noticed with awe that one boy took hi plate up seven times. It was a most popular place.

The amazing photographs are uncredited – I couldn’t find any names.

Programme designers please note small print on red paper is virtually unreadable


Anonymous said...

The Australian Ballet just did a production of this a month ago - and it was lovely. Hooray for the arts!

I highly recommend Graeme Murphy's incarnation of Swan Lake if you're a balletomane like myself. Madeleine Eastoe, as Odette, reduced me to tears twice.

PI said...

Miss D: I guess the more you know about it the more moving it is although Moira Shearer used to say she never watched ballet as she just saw all the mistakes. That's quite sad.

Kim Ayres said...

Same old story - happens all the time round here. You can barely move for lithely dancing students, rich men, pimps and beautiful women. It's a real pest when you're trying to buy your muesli.

scarlet-blue said...

"she first appeared as a pure, innocent young girl"
We've all been there!

I have enjoyed going to the Ballet. I saw Romeo and Juliet at Convent Garden and I've seen The Nutcracker. It's such a beautiful way to tell a story - through music and dance. And the costumes and colours - especially in The Nutcracker - are breathtaking.

kenju said...

"Alicia Markova was really Lillian Alicia Marks and the divine Margot Fonteyn was Peggy Hookham."

Oh, say it isn't so, Pat. That takes a lot of the romance away from it.

I didn't know the story, and you make it sound so intriguing!

PI said...

Kim: you are funny:)

Scarlet: I don't want to boast - yes I do. I saw Rudolf and Margot do Romeo and Juliet in New York in 1970 and she certainly had been given a new lease of life and danced like a teenager.
I think I would remember if I had seen the Nutcracker.

Judy :'fraid it's true but they both always behaved like duchesses should.

zoe said...

The first ballet that I ever saw was by Mark Morris - who 'does' contemporary ballet. It was the Nutcracker and I absolutely adored it. I have seen Morris in several other roles and Béjart as well - but nothing quite prepared me for the very strange ballet about Mozart.

I would love to see Manon - it sounds quite enchanting.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

You know Pat, I am always amused by the plots of Operas...I mean, talk about A Soap Opera..And with lots of death and deception and suicides and murders and adultery and prostitution and abuse....! LOL! Lord Help Us!

The pictures look quite beautiful and I would love to have seen this....! You really get to see so very many WONDERFUL things there.....!
Interesting that the Orchestra was so big that they had to take out seats! But it is Beautiful Music, isb't it?

I LOVED your synopsis of this story! GREAT!

Guyana-Gyal said...

To quote Miss Diarist, hooray for the arts.

Pat, about Moira Shearer who saw only the mistakes...that is truly, truly sad.

problemchildbride said...

"the divine Margot Fonteyn was Peggy Hookham" Blimey, I didn't know that. What a difference a name makes.

It's amazing what a different production's interpretation can do to a performance. I saw As You Like It over the summer and the Rosalind in it was far more assertive, adn although very sweet, she acted with muscle and chops. Not at all like the far more innocent Rosalind I saw about 8 years ago. I enjoyed this interpretation better I have to say. Rosalind is whip-smart, funny and quick. To see her played with some fire made her seem like a much more real character.

R. Sherman said...

I'm such a peasant; I didn't know about this ballet. In many respects the story sounds like the poem Evangeline, which is about the deportation of the French settlers of Arcadia in Canada to New Orleans after Wolfe defeated Montcalm at Quebec City. We read the poem in eighth grade: same general plot points except, the heroine wasn't a prostitute and there was no raping involved.


Eryl Shields said...

I need to do more stories in which my heroines die at the end. I tend to wimp out and have them go limply on.

This sounds, and looks, like a gorgeous story. I wonder if it will come to Scotland? I'll have to check.

PI said...

Zoe: how wonderful to have seen both Morris's and Bejart's work.

Naomi: never a dull moment and music and dancing too. What more could one ask? Maybe the odd aria:)

GG: what would if be without the arts. Arid, that's what.

Sam: it is the greatest fun to put one's stamp on a part. And if it's Shakespeare, which is not the easiest of drama, it can help the audience to appreciate the play more fully.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Small print on red paper? How about small RED print on red paper. Tis tantamount to the same.

Anonymous said...

I agree the photo black and white is magnificent !

What always worries me so much it is these tights for man ,before they hid their purse there !! Now what they hide ??? :)

I worm to do me to boo !!! by the crowd :(

PI said...

Randall: you a peasant? I think not. You'd be hard pressed to find a peasant as erudite as yourself and if you're a peasant I'm a chav:)

Eryl: there always seems to be lots of art stuff happening in Scotland but maybe the touring troupes wimp out. I think one has to be prepared to lose the odd heroine - as long as one doesn't overdo it. In opera it's almost obligatory and I'm still gettin g over Beth in 'Little Women'

Hoss: one could go on:)

Crabtree: some say that is where they keep the crown jewels or sometimes 'the keys' but never a worm.

John said...

I saw that ballet many years ago and I found it very disturbing. I know it is only the work of a fertile imagination, but I was troubled by it for a long time afterwards. I supposed you could say it made a great impact on me.

I much prefer the story of the other Manon, "Manon de source", a film set in the beautiful countryside of Provence.

PI said...

John: it's a shame when a production has that effect but it does happen sometimes - mote especially with books and films.
'Manon de Source' was a memorable film.