Royal Danish Ballet
February 22, 2014
When a ballet company have a ressource like Alban Lendorf, is it fair that a part of the repertoire is dedicated to his needs for new and big challenges. Rehashing MacMillan's "Manon" is more than justified on that account. As the production also showcase the solution for the perfect partner for Lendorf is more than a added bonus. Alessandra Lo Sardo makes a stunning Manon and stake her claim as a RDB leading ballerina.
In 2003 Ballet Master Frank Andersen presented "Manon" for the Danish audience. RDB had been permitted by Lady MacMillan to change the traditional scenography. So the premiere took place in a lighter decor and in costumes that combined the 18th century style with a lighter contemporary touch by Danish designer Mia Steensgaard. Both the production and the decor became a big success, and the new decor and costumes has since been used for several other productions in London, Berlin and Helsinki. The new framework creates a softer and lighter frame around the ballet which seemed rejuvenated.
But although a chance of dressing makes a positive difference, there is no hiding the problems in Macmillan’s work. Rich and over rich in difficult choreography for the main couple the choreography for soloists and corps are dreary and uninventive. Small ensembles of beggars, whores, their customers, deportees and locals creates an ongoing, but very boring steam of movements that goes on and on. It is one of many cases where less would be more.
A Fool for Love
The main couple, the greedy Manon and her naive amour Des Grieux are also subjected to a severe case of over choreographing. Even when Des Grieux tries to protest of the jailer abducting his ladylove for a forced tryst, his protest are a series of pirouettes and arabesques. But in general the choreography for the lead couple is still where the battle is won. "Manon" remains a strong argument for Pas de Deux and for a partnership.
A strong partnership is probably the only thing Alban Lendorf has been denied at RDB. He has been paired with a numbers of ballerinas without hitting the ideal solution. Well up to now. When Lendorf and French dancer Alessandra Lo Sardo were teamed last month for "Napoli" it was clear that this could be the perfect match. It is more than confirmed in "Manon". And even better, Lo Sardo claim to the role proved not only to be her physical suitability to partner Lendorf, but her grip on Manon. She is in complete control and builds a convincing character as the rather scheming girl. It is not a sugary nor a wronged Manon, she does create, but a gambler, always on the lookout for the next advantage. She uses the crowds of men more than they use her. It is a brave decision not to play the sympathy and sentimentality card. A true material girl. And a perfect contrast to Lendorf’s heartfelt, but also rather naive suitor. He is her fallback guy.
Lendorf makes his Des Grieux sympatric and feeling. His soft acting creates a symbiosis with his strong and assured partnering. One of the questions how would he handle the Anthony Dowell footprint on the choreography? MacMillan created Des Grieux on the strengths and specialties of his lead dancer, who was strong in slow pirouettes and arabesques. Physically Alban Lendorf is far away from being a Dowell type, but he had no problem in the embroided and often repeated signature steps and was successful in creating a flow in the legato.
"Manon" is slim in supporting roles. Young Benjamin Buza brought his strong stage presence to the part of Manon's scheming brother Lescaut and an interpretation that Lescaut is basically a good guy. The part of his mistress was given to the technically strong Holly Jean Dorger. She danced it well but she could not create a character for the role. Mads Blangstrup cut a strong personality as the jailer, whereas Cedric Lambrette, who has shown great promise as character dancer could not use his full arsenal for Mr. G.M.
"Manon" will only run 8 performances and will be followed by an equal number of "La Bayadére". Before "Manon" we got six performances of "Napoli". The small number of performance makes it almost impossible to launch a third cast. And it limits the possibility to develop the talent; the company has and will need for some of planned productions for the coming seasons, like "Jewels". This is something I have great difficulties to adjust to, especially as the company had to play 22 performances of Twyla Tharp's Sinatra work "Come Fly Away" and 17 "Nutcrackers". The premiere audience gave a standing ovation for "Manon", so its potential for popularity remains strong. I do hope for a better planned and quality weighted next season. "Manon" is far from a masterpiece, but as lead by outstanding performances by Lo Sardo and Lendorf, the company created a fine evening, supported by the beautiful costumes and scenery and a strong effort from the orchestra pit. This is the type of ballet where the RDB really shows the strengths, both in in numbers and in quality.
Photos by Costin Radu Copyright Royal Danish Ballet
1 Alexandra Lo Sardo
2. Jonathan Chmelensky
3. Alexandra Lo Sardo & Alban Lendorf
4. Stephanie Chen Gundorph and Lena Maria Gruber