Kenneth MacMillan’s source for Manon was the 18th-century French novel by Abbé Prévost, already adapted for opera by Massenet and Puccini. Renowned dance musician Leighton Lucas and his assistant Hilda Gaunt provided a score drawn from across Massenet’s music, including his famous yearning Elégie as the theme for the lovers. The premiere was given on 7 March 1974, with the lead roles of Manon and Des Grieux danced by Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. The ballet quickly became a staple of The Royal Ballet’s repertory, and a touchstone of adult, dramatic dance.
MacMillan found new sympathy with the capricious Manon and her struggle to escape poverty. Designs by his regular collaborator Nicholas Georgiadis reflect this, depicting a world of lavish splendour polluted by miserable destitution. MacMillan’s spectacular ensemble scenes for the whole Company create vivid, complex portraits of the distinct societies of Paris and New Orleans. But it is Manon and Des Grieux’s impassioned pas de deux – recalling the intensity of MacMillan’s earlier Romeo and Juliet – that drive this tragic story, and make Manon one of MacMillan’s most powerful dramas.
Choreography: Kenneth MacMillan
Music: Jules Massenet
Orchestration: Martin Yates
Designer: Nicholas Georgiadis
Lighting designer: John B. Read