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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Manon: Royal Ballet (Yates) [DVD] [2009] [NTSC]
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on 16 March 2010
Abbé Prévost, the 18th century author of Manon (Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, published in 1731) probably never thought his heroine would be so celebrated - two ballets and four operas - and reach the 21st century. MacMillan choreographed the story aided by L.Lucas and Hilda Gaunt who assembled various pieces from Massenet music but curiously not from his opera Manon and the ballet came to light im 1974, danced by legends Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley.
This DVD filmed in 2008 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is a thrilling experience at all levels. Tamara Rojo/Manon and Carlos Acosta/Des Grieux give us a most poignant interpretation. T.Rojo contrives to portray the heroine's complex character throughout the ballet and C.Acosta is like a most gifted painter giving true life to a portrait, both dancing MacMillan's difficult steps with fabulous technique and intelligence.MacMillan is a genius exploring human nature, showing characters through his choreographies and in this case Rojo and Acosta respond in a state of absolute cumplicity.Seldom can one actually feel Manon's misery and Des Grieux's extreme pain as in the miraculously danced and interpreted Act 3, scene 3.
The other dancers, José Martín (Lescault),Laura Morera (Lescault's mistress),young and virtuoso Paul Kay(the beggar chief) dance flawlessly and with "brio", underlining brilliantly the characters of their personae.This is certainly a masterpiece and a credit for the entire company such is the level of this production, from the design to the staging. Last but not the least, Massenet's music is superiorly conducted by Martin Yates.Magnificently filmed this is a Manon not only to remember but also to watch endlessly.
But, if all in this Manon is superlative, it is not less true that prince Anthony Dowell's Des Grieux remains the reference because of his unique technique and acting.
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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.)
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on 23 April 2010
Surely the definitive version, at least unless the original cast (for whom the piece was created) are available! In my view, this is MacMillan's masterpiece, the choreography moving the story along, revealing character and mood like a novel.
Rojo and Acosta take us convincingly and memorably through the changes that their characters experience, as the two young lovers use and corupt each other, pushed along by Manon's horrible brother, danced with great verve by Jose Martin. As always with the Royal Ballet, a team of experienced performers make the supporting roles come to life: I found Christopher Saunders as the lustful and then vengeful sugar daddy, Monsieur G. M., particularly convincing. And Thomas Whitehead as the corrupt and brutal goaler,and the comically drunken de deux danced by Martin and Morera: the list goes on and on. All this action builds slowly and inexorably to the stunningly emotional finale, the death of Manon, when Acosta and Rojo demonstrate just why they are so highly regarded, both technically and dramatically.
There is also a documentary about dancing Manon, with rehearsal footage and interviews with the two principles and Monica Mason, who was in the original production.
I recommend this to anyone who likes ballet: my only proviso would be that the material is not suitable for children
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 24 July 2012
The story of Manon will be known to many through the operas of both Massenet and Puccini. At first glance this would seem to be a danced version of the Massenet opera as the music is by Massenet but this is a wrong assumption. Instead what we hear is an extended 3 act ballet which skilfully makes use of no less than 45 other compositions of Massenet woven together to make a very effective musical setting for this powerful ballet telling of the story.

One other point concerns the ending. In the Massenet opera the story ends still in France but outside her gaol where Manon dies in some temporary freedom. In the Puccini opera Manon is transported to the United States where she dies in the nearby Florida desert (doubtful geography here!). In this version Manon is transported to New Orleans and dies in the Florida swamps while fleeing after the killing of her gaoler.

This ballet was created in 1974 and has been a regular success ever since. This is for many reasons. The music and choreography make a particularly apt partnership and a firm basis for the story. The choreography also makes a point of being unusually inclusive of so many of the dancers. Clearly the two star roles stand out as they must but there are significant and important roles for a considerable number of supporting characters and this involves individual dancers, small groups of dancers and larger ensembles. As a result there is an increased and constant dramatic impact throughout the ballet across a very wide spectrum. In these ways this is a very typical MacMillan ballet and is constantly rewarding as an enveloping sensory experience.

As there are so many star roles I will avoid singling out particular dancers for special praise as this would be either unfairly brief or disproportionately long. Suffice it to say that all portray their roles to perfection and it would be hard to imagine any area for improvement. Much the same can be said of the settings, costumes and scenery.

That leaves us with Tamara Rojo as Manon and Carlos Acosta as Des Grieux and here one must comment that they, yet again, make a pair of interpretive actors and dancers that seem both made for the parts and also for each other on stage. Both are superlative solo artists but when put together they simply illustrate the idea that the whole is far greater than the sum of the individual parts. This is inspirational dancing and portrayal.

The imaging of this 2008 recording is very crisp, with excellent colour rendition and without a trace of movement blur. The camera work is involving and tastefully achieved throughout. The sound is full ranging and presented in both DTS 5.1 and stereo and fully reveals the excellence of the orchestra which is on fine form. This clearly seems to be an HD recording and it is tragic that it has not been issued as a Blu-ray option.

On that subject, if a Blu-ray option were to appear later it would inevitably seem to be a cynical throw-back to earlier days when this double-dealing was all too common - financial sharp practice that can only sour relations between the manufacturer and its supporting collector-public who would be required to pay twice over to obtain an option that should have been available immediately. The only honourable solution would be to arrange some sort of trade-in deal for previous collectors. We shall see .......

In my opinion this is probably a definitive recording for the great majority of viewers and will probably remain as the purchase of choice for a very long time to come. It is therefore only reasonable for it to be rated at a full 5 stars.
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on 14 February 2011
I wholeheartedly agree with the other reviews. This is a ballet to treasure.

If you don't like the bad endings this is not for you for obvious reasons. Manon dies at the end, that's true, but believe me that the trip is worth the tears you'll drop. Everyone is a joy to watch (notably José Martín as Lescaut). The work put in this production is palpable and the dancers are enjoining to be part of it all along the way.
Tamara Rojo as the title role needs a separate mention. She is SO perfect in this role: cheeky, playful, ambitious, sensual, and always with a sense of fragility and tenderness yet bravery that will enchant you from the very beginning.

The music is superbly played (don't be put off about the mixing of different scores, this is Massenet after all) and the costumes and sets are just wonderful.

Should you buy it? Of course, this is the one Manon you'll need for quite a while. You may purchase other versions but I would recommend this one as your first and measure for the rest.
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on 17 February 2010
Long awaited release in the UK - wonderful production, look out for Tamara and Carlos but also a wonderful performance by Tom Whitehead as the Gaoler. A must have if you're a ballet fan.
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on 4 March 2010
Could not wait for the bluray. I just break out in floods of tears when I watch this so words such as fantastic do not do this proper justice! NO PROBLEM Amazon sent me region 0
The discussion with Monica Tamara and Carlos was very moving particularly when Tamara said she used to rush to see her favourite dancer from Cuba perform when she was a young girl! Tamara and Carlos wished they could have met Kenneth MacMillian but had this occurred Kenneth would have asked for Jules Massenet to be present for nobody else could have tinkered with his scores so effectively without being totally besotted by this somewhat underrated composer. Furthermore the roots go deeper as the first few bars are from La Verge first performed at the Palais Garnier home of the Paris ballet and a wonderful ballet from Le Roi De Lahore. Where the loveliest theme from the bedroom scene comes from I have yet to identify but it is of pure sunshine. What they said about the darker side of MacMillians ballets make Massenet and MacMillian kindred spirits.- Mayerling's choreography and Massenet's extreme passionate and lyrical expression in Werther make Mayerling and Werther as close as Manon the opera and Manon the ballet.
When you go to Paris take the Metro to Jardin du Luxembourg. Pay homage at the Massenet Memorial. A truly emotive experience as one metre in front stands a lonely figure of Manon . You may cast a tear or drop flowers but think of the lovely dancers and singers that are our most precious Manons. Tamara you are one of these!
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on 26 April 2014
I had heard about but had never seen this ballet. What a magnificent treat was in store for me when I watched it. The dancing is superb. Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta were made for each other - the connection between them is palpable. Although the story behind the ballet is sad it is interspersed with humour. However the ending is so passionate and grief stricken it left me with tears running down my face. Everything about this production is perfect. I shall watch it over and over again and will never tire of it.
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on 11 February 2014
This is breathtaking! MacMillan was a genius. Acosta and Rojo are superb. The supporting cast, Martin, Saunders, Morera, the entire corps de ballet are first rate. Massenet's music is "swoon-worthy". I never tire of it.
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on 8 May 2011
If you are waiting for a blu ray release of this ballet, I would advise that this is unlikely to happen. According to a well-placed contact, Decca's blu-ray version of Romeo and Juliet did not sell well enough to justify releasing Manon on high def. This seems surprising as Opus Arte are consistently releasing on blu-ray. So go figure!
If you want this wonderful performance, buy it now. This is the best version available and a must for any serious ballet fan. Its worth noting that this release includes a lengthy behind the scenes piece with interviews and rehearsal footage. I have deducted one star from the overall release due to it only being on DVD. The Ballet itself is also split over 2 discs . This disc is Region 0 and in NTSC format.
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