Friday, 17 October 2014

Melissa Hamilton in "Manon"; wow...

Isn't a "Manon" a kind of chocolate?  Something with praline and whipped cream enrobed in fine belgian choc?  Delicious.

"Manon" the story is not exactly delicious; it's bittersweet even at its happiest moments, and deeply tragic by the end.  At the moment the Royal Ballet are doing MacMillan's magnificent version and I've been twice, sad balletomane that I am.

I went with the DipGeek, a planned outing; we saw Laura Morera and Nehemiah Kish, innocent and unhappy as the lovers, and Riccardo Cervera as an insouciant Lescaut.  But then on Monday I managed to get a returned ticket, to see one of my current dance idols, Melissa Hamilton, making her debut in the lead.

So if I am a sad balletomane? - so what.  This was something not to be missed.  And boy, do we have a Manon here!  I know I'm one of her fangirls, but Ms Hamilton simply seized the part with both hands and made it her own.  I was completely blown away.

She was going absolutely flat-out, technically - not a foot wrong, not a risk fudged - while dramatically, emotionally, this was as subtle and truthful an interpretation as I've ever seen.  Her performance was alive with flickering feelings, right to her fingertips.  She brought out little nuances, like the way the innocent girl, arriving in Paris in a pell-mell hurtle of excitement, cannot resist trying to show off her pretty new frock to her brother - only to realise within minutes that next to the glittery finery of the local whores she looks provincial and frumpy.  And bang! she goes, like the kid she is, straight from unthinking happiness to frustrated dissatisfaction.

This was a very young Manon, in love but also very much swept up with being in love, and visibly steeling herself to the touch of Monsieur GM with his creepy fetishes and bullying dominance.  Right through Act One there was a vividly real sense of someone trying to keep abreast of things, trying to make decisions on the spur of the moment, trying to stay ahead without really knowing what she's doing.  Circumstances keep changing, complications keep arriving, and she is too un-worldy-wise to realise she cannot have it all, despite the deepening mess, until it is horribly, painfully too late.  By the end we were going full-on for raw danger; the famous flips and plunging lifts of the last pas de deux were taken right to the line, as they need to be, to give the last scene the utter desperation it needs.  Seriously; it needs to be scary, that scene, and it was.  I haven't seen a Manon come that close to dashing her brains out on the stage for a while...

She had an excellent Lescaut in Bennet Gartside, who I didn't know would be dancing this role until I opened my cast sheet; that was a nice surprise to arrive to.  He's matured into a terrific actor and still has the dancing chops to pull off a superbly naturalistic, tumbling drunk scene, making all those horrendous off-balance leaps look easy - and phenomenally real.  If anyone in the company is going to step into Gary Avis' shoes in time, Mr Gartside might be the one to do it.

Mr Avis was excelling himself as usual (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) as an utterly repellent Monsieur GM.  I wouldn't ever have expected to say this as a compliment, but he was rape culture personified.  Through great chunks of the brothel scene my eyes kept straying from the merrymaking of the whores and their clients, to watch the interactions between him and Manon.  This was a real relationship, subtle and full of tension, a constantly-shifting unadmitted power struggle going on.  One got a very clear sense of what has happened to Manon in the last few weeks, and a real premonition of what might have happened in the succeeding months, if she hadn't taken another spur-of-the-moment gamble and tried to have it all.

I would have liked to see Miss Hamilton paired with a more emotionally responsive Des Grieux.  Matthew Golding certainly seems to be a strong, safe partner (& my god, you need one with some of the lifts in "Manon") but his acting was a bit one-dimensional for my tastes.  Mr Kish, a couple of weeks before, brought a low-key sincerity and an air of innocent, well-intentioned sweetness to this foolish young man; one watched his characterisation and thought "By gum, Des Grieux is an idiot" but one also felt for him desperately.  I didn't really feel for Mr Golding, and that's a pity. 

But by and large it was a tremendous performance.  As usual all the bit parts were beautifully done.  As usual Gary Avis acted his socks off.  And as usual Miss Hamilton left me stunned, by her wonderful dancing and her heartfelt dramatic instincts. 

The rest of my week has been busy at work and I am tending to flop at home.  I'm still very tired.  I've just been for a drink after work with the Press Office team, followed by pizza and salad 'cos it's Friday.  My internet connection at home seems to be okay tonight, after being distinctly off-colour lately.  And I have kitten-sitting duties this weekend.  So things aren't too bad at all, all things considered.  And now I am going to bed.

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