The 2014 season of the Australian Ballet is seeing off their star ballerina Lucinda Dunn in style, with the beloved dancer taking on the title role of Manon in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s production. Lana Jones took on the coveted role from Dunn in the Saturday evening performance with delicate complexity and maturity.
The melodramatic tale of the a young innocent Manon, whom, on her journey to join a convent falls in love with student des Grieux, (Kevin Jackson) whilst being unwittingly sold into marriage by her brother Lescaut (Brett Simon). As Manon disappears in the Parisian night with Grieux, Lescaut and a disgruntled Steven Heathcote as Monsieur GM follow the lovers to claim their bounty.
Upon appearing in Manon’s bedroom, Monsieur GM seduces the impressionable Manon with his wealth and power and she is overcome with a lust for luxury that Grieux is unable to match.
Jones and Jackson are perfectly matched in this production; the pas de deux in the final act is as emotionally fraught as it is delicately beautiful. Jackson holds Jones up as if she were on a pedestal, and Grieux remains steadfast in his love for the fickle Manon.
Playing into the ideology of the “fallen woman,” Manon is duly punished for her wicked behaviour, (being seduced by Monsieur GM’s wealth over her love for Grieux) and therefore is condemned to die with none of the wealth she so dearly craved.
The elaborate production set in 18th century France is a sumptuous affair of stunning costumes and impressive scenery. Both set design and lighting help develop the tone of the narrative as the lovers move between cosmopolitan Paris, to the docks of the “Americas” and finally the swamps of Louisiana.
While Jones and Jackson are heartbreakingly beautiful, the supporting characters of Lescaut (Simon) and his mistress (Laura Tong) propel the story, adding moments of humour in the somewhat overdramatic tale.
A drunken pas de deux between the two is a highlight of the performance and Tong proves herself a standout performer, maintaining the seductive nature of the character without ever taking it into pantomime. Veteran dancer, Heathcote is always a joy to watch, even more so when he is playing the evil Monsieur GM.
The Australian Ballet has crafted a beautiful production from sets to costumes and choreography. Manon is an exceptional piece to add to any ballet company’s repertoire, and enables the Australian Ballet to show off the full gamut of their talent.
The Australian Ballet presents
with Orchestra Victoria
Choreography Sir Kenneth MacMillan
Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 14 – 24 March 2014
Tickets: $39 – $186