thu 24/09/2020

Manon, Royal Ballet | reviews, news & interviews

Manon, Royal Ballet

Manon, Royal Ballet

Alina Cojocaru delivers, quite simply, a transcendent performance

If an excess of enthusiasm troubles you, look away now. Because this is less a review, more a love letter. Alina Cojocaru has been astonishing audiences for more than a dozen years. Regular ballet-goers attend her performances expecting to be thrilled. I went expecting to be thrilled. What I didn’t expect was to have a ballet I have been watching for 30-odd years suddenly seem new.

And yet, it happened. There are good dancers. There are great dancers. And then there is Alina Cojocaru.

It is not technique – or rather, not technique alone. There are splendid things Cojocaru does that make you smile appreciatively: fine balances, lovely jumps, wonderful extension. But it is her way of shading each move so that the essence of each step is given its full meaning, and a musicality so intense that it just flows through her that raises her above everyone else. (I told you I was going to be excessively enthusiastic: you were warned, you know.) Sometimes she allows her steps to drift behind the music, and appears to be driven by it; sometimes she is slightly in advance, and appears to be driving it. But it is never anything but the core of her dancing.

Manon3_Bill_CooperAnd her partner, Johan Kobborg, is with her every step of the way. Her senior by nearly a decade, his dancing is not as lush as it was, but it is still exquisitely placed, and wonderfully, beautifully clean – no blurring, no pretence. Always a good and careful partner, even with Macmillan’s fiendishly difficult pas de deux he created the safe setting in which his partner could dazzle.

Neither of them are afraid to be still, to do less, and then do even less; both understand that it is not this step, or that step, that matters, but a phrase, a way of shaping an entire scene. In Act II, when Manon decides to return to des Grieux, Cojocaru simply bent her neck and head gently towards her partner, as Massenet’s music soared.

Most dancers give Manon two entirely separate sides: the loving woman with des Grieux, and the frozen, slightly dead-eyed vamp with Monsieur GM, who buys her from her brother. Cojocaru’s Manon is both more complex and more simple. She is certainly more real, for she is Monsieur GM’s twin: they both want what they want – one buys it with money, the other with sex, but both are consumers.

In the few minutes Cojocaru and Kobborg were offstage, I did manage to glean that there were other dancers performing. Itziar Mendizabal as Lescaut’s mistress glintingly captured the superb off-balance balances in her Act I solo. Manon’s brother, happy to pimp his sister to advance them both, was gloatingly well danced by Ricardo Cervera. Perhaps he made less in acting terms of the brothel scene in Act II than he might have, but his Act I solo had everything: fleet and sharp, his precise little jumps were beautifully placed.

This was, happily, one of the Royal Opera House’s BP Summer Big Screen events, with the performance broadcast outdoors in eight locations across the country.

Watch Cojocaru and Kobborg in rehearsal


I had the honor and privilege of seeing Alina Cojocaru in Manon in Washington, D.C. in 2009 and it was the single most unforgettable performance I have ever attended. (And I have attended thousands of performances in my lifetime!) Since then, I plan my vacations in the UK and USA, just to see her perform. She is by far one of the world's greatest ballerinas and the depth and complexity of her interpretation of Manon can never be matched by anyone else. She and Johann Koberg literally take my breath away, every time I see them perfom. And the audience is held absolutely spellbound. Thank you for writing such a gorgeous revie/"love letter". It is such a testament to Alina's grace, beauty, and unsurpassed radiance.

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