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Sir Kenneth MacMillan 1929 - 1992 :

The Paris Opéra Ballet Remembers

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 29 September 2003 - Sir Kenneth MacMillan, whose career with the Royal Ballet in London spanned nearly fifty years, is one of the most important choreographers of the twentieth century. His sexually explicit The Invitation, created for the young Lynn Seymour in 1960, followed by his sombre psychological explorations took classical ballet out of the realm of mere fantasy, while his emotionally expressive full-length works, including Romeo and Juliet, Mayerling and Manon, gave new life to the traditional "fairy-tale" classics.

He has been the subject of an international tribute this season, when, in addition to the programmes at the Royal Ballet, English National Ballet staged The Rite of Spring, La Scala presented his Romeo and Juliet, the Royal Danish Ballet staged Manon, while in the United States, A.B.T. presented his productions of The Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens programmed Gloria, and San Francisco Ballet, Elite Syncopations while dancers from Tokyo toured Japan with A MacMillan Kaleidoscope.

For the tenth anniversary of MacMillan's death, from a heart attack on October 29th, 2002, the Paris Opera Ballet re-programmed Manon, created for the Royal Ballet in 1974, which entered the French company's repertoire in 1990. Set to an arrangement of Massenet's music by Leighton Lucas, and with costumes by the great Nicholas Georgiadis, it is one of his best-loved works. International guest artists Sylvie Guillem and Diana Vishneva arrived in Paris for the occasion, but on Saturday, 14 June, premiere danseuse Delphine Moussin made her debut in the title role. Inexperienced as she was, she gave a totally believable and utterly beautiful performance.

Touchingly young and pretty at the beginning of the ballet as she steps lightly off the stagecoach which is carrying her to a convent, Moussin blossomed after falling in love with des Grieux, a poor student. She threw herself with ecstasy into the big bedroom scene in her lover's apartment in Paris, taking every risk she could.

As Manon's brother, Lescaut catches up with her, and persuades her to yield to the advances of an elderly but wealthy suitor, Moussin's grand entrance in all her finery at Madame's hotel particulier was accomplished with a shy but growing awareness of her awakened sexual powers. She accepted the admiration of all the men with an almost childish pleasure as her slender, supple body, made for the choreography, was lifted up and down, turned and twisted with grace, and carried across the stage. She innocently believes she can have everything; riches, admiration and love, and does not realise that she is betraying her young lover as she drags him down with her . Less perfidious than naive, she clings to her jewellery and fine clothes even as the couple takes flight.


But she is arrested and deported to Louisiana as a prostitute, where, forced to flee once more, she dies from exhaustion in her lover's arms in the swamps. She's neither shallow nor cunning, more a battered victim of events, and as such, one can identify with her completely. Delphine Moussin's involvement in the character was overwhelming.


With her fluid movements and emotionally expressive dancing, the final pas de deux was sublime; a moment of supreme art.


She had the supporting cast she deserved. Manuel Legris, acknowledged as one of the world's most perfect classical dancers, who created the role of Des Grieux at the Paris premiere in 1990, was ardent, gentle and supportive. His dancing went from strength to strength. Giving care and attention to each movement, he anticipated her every need.

Virile Yann Bridard was a fine Lescaut. Although he sells his sister for financial gain, he is not the blackened ruffian one has grown to expect, but more the misled bad boy. The drunken duet with his mistress, the vivid Marie-Agnès Gillot, was brilliant, and served to heighten the pathos of act three, moving the audience from laughter to tears.


In all the many excellent casts I have seen over the years, it was the first time I felt the full emotional impact of this magnificent work. An exciting and memorable performance; MacMillan could have wished for no better tribute.


Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.

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