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A wonderful ballet !...but
on 8 July 2013
Was waiting a long time for this film to arrive in Blu-ray. High-definition is definitely the way ahead for films of ballet, so it's surprising that this recent ROH recording has not been issued in Blu-ray. Eventually I had to opt for the standard dvd.
The only other film of the superb ROH production of Macmillan's "Manon" features Anthony Dowell and Jennifer Penney. It is still available, and all things considered the Dowell-Penney recording (now something like 30 years old) definitely remains the top recommendation for "Manon" -despite the superior recorded quality of this 2009 performance.
Carlos Acosta is a marvellous dancer with a powerful technique, but regrettably in "Manon" he appears miscast. Des Grieux is characterised as a sheltered, aristocratic student not yet 20, inexperienced in love, with the vulnerability of a boy yet to learn the ways of the world. There is an innocence written into the choreography of des Grieux, and this characteristic accentuates the unfolding tragedy. It has to be said that Acosta is sometimes unable to convey these aspects convincingly, because he looks physically just too strong and commanding ! His dancing is tremendous, but in this film he looks more akin to a capable and experienced boxer -he lacks the vulnerability ideally required in this role. Tamara Rojo is a fantastically skilful dancer, fully equal to the damands of her taxing role, but for this reviewer she lacks charm. Like Acosta she seems too invulnerable. (Other reviewers here will no doubt charge me with blasphemy.)
"Manon" is par excellence a 'company' ballet, which does not depend on its principals alone. There are several roles which are largely mime, but nevertheless vital to the success of the performance- including the 'Madam', and 'Monsieur G.M.' These two roles -amongst several supporting parts- are performed with such breathtaking skill in the 1984 film, that the recent interpretations here seem paler in comparison. For example, 'Monsieur G.M.' is an intensely sinister character, who should probably ooze the lures of lust! -and this he vividly does in the 1984 film, but here there is slightly less...
This recent film has up-to-date sharpness in the image -but it is not in high-definition. It's surprising that despite being made 30 years ago, the Dowell-Penney performance is arguably a better film in terms of camerawork and editing, partly because we are given a more satisfying view of the unforgettable set-designs by Nico Georgiadis. Though the image was less crisp in 1984, we get a better feeling of an actual stage performance, seen from a good seat in the theatre. There is so much close, fast-cut editing in this new film -with the background whizzing past!- that you are sometimes left visually dazed. There is little chance to appreciate the important stage picture as a whole except for a few seconds when the curtain goes up, and very briefly afterwards. Given the stunning Georgiadis designs on the immense ROH stage, with their brilliant evocation of mid-18th century France, this is a considerable loss.
Occasional close-shots can be helpful, but in this film of "Manon" their frequency becomes a serious distraction from the all-important choreography. (Did the Director try to treat this ballet as a 'movie'? Please, it's a ballet!) Little is gained by these incessant close-ups because they often shatter the essential dramatic illusion, and more important, they break up the vital line and sequence of the choreography. In filmed ballet, more is usually lost than is gained by the use of the close-up -they should probably be used sparingly !
It seems that ballet may be more about 'star-watching', than about enjoying a total work of art, such as "Manon". In this performance the patronising applause, which interrupts the music to greet the arrival on stage of 'the star' (before performing a step), suggests that it is the star that really matters for many in the audience. Maybe the star now matters more than the work of art itself.
This miraculously beautiful ballet is most definitely not about star turns, because every ingredient in this marvellous production is of almost equal importance. "Manon" is complete theatre, a living conjunction of story, choreographer, composer, designer, musicians and dancers, and they are all vital parts of a wonderful whole. (If Ballet is mostly about watching star-performers, then the significant use of closeups in this film could be justified.)