Artiklar från 2008 – till idag

Artiklar från 2008 – till idag

Manon Kungliga Operan 2023

Manon at the Royal Opera Stockholm with William Dugan, Madeline Woo and Benjamin Meslier, in the background Gabriel Sinclair Jahnke. Photo Carl Thorborg

28 aug

“A new look at it” – Lady MacMillan about Manon with the Royal Swedish Ballet

As part of the 250-year jubilee program of the Royal Swedish Opera and as a tribute to the long-lasting cooperation between the Royal Swedish Ballet and world-renowned English choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Manon made a comeback in May 2023. From September 1, Manon is back on stage until the end of the month.

Not performed by the Royal Swedish Ballet since 2010, Manon returned in a new production, this time with set and costume from the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen.

The day before the premiere in May, Dansportalen was given an opportunity to sit down for an interview with Lady MacMillan, the widow of the late Sir Kenneth MacMillan, who has been the custodian of her husband’s work since his death in 1992.

Dame Mac Millan Foto CH

Lady MacMillan in the Royal Opera House Stockholm. Photo Cristian Hillbom

Many people would agree that Manon is a very powerful ballet. Why is that?

I think it is just such a jolly good story. Kenneth was always completely driven by stories, that is basically why he wanted to choreograph. He had this idea I think and unless the dancers could come up with something that worked for the idea, he kept rejecting it. The whole thing was collaborative between him and the dancers. Basically, what he was trying to do was to make the choreography tell the story.

I find that fascinating because I think that when the dancers get it, which I think this company has, you know what is happening. It has been very interesting for me to watch the way the rest of the company, not only the main protagonists, inhabit the stage, the stories going on in the background. That is good theatre.

Compared to last time we saw Manon in 2010, the orchestration as well as set and costumes are new. What can we expect this time?

A new look at it. The reason why the orchestration was made new is that when it was first choreographed in 1974 Kenneth worked with a piano reduction since Lucas Leighton was orchestrating it somewhere else. When the time was right, I approached Martin Yates and asked him to have a look at it because some parts were not exactly right.

The Georgiadis production as you know is very powerful and good for big companies but now things cost a huge amount of money to repair and store. Frank Andersen approached me from Copenhagen and asked if I would consider a new design because it would give them a chance to tour it.

Mia Steensgard, the costume designer, has come up with something that works quite well. What is interesting for me watching it is that you can see all choreography whereas in the Georgiadis production people can sometimes hide behind the fact that they are in massive costumes.

Manon Operan 

The Swedish Royal Ballet in Manon. Photo Carl Thorborg

The novel by Abbé Prévost was published already in 1731. What was it in the character of Manon that intrigued Sir Kenneth MacMillan?

She is a bit of an outsider figure. I can’t put my finger on it completely except that I think it is romantic, but it is also quite though, its brutal. Kenneth was very much on the side of the outsiders and people who were knocking their heads against what was the social norms of the time.

I would like to ask you about the broader creative process. How do you create a piece like Manon?

It is a bit of alchemy really. The way it happened is that he chose the music and he sort of wrote the story that he wanted but that was it. He had the piano reduction, and everything then happened in the studio, and what he expected of his dancers was a totally creative approach to making the work. He used to say I can work for two hours, if I get two minutes out of that I am doing well.

It is a sort of human triumph as it comes together a few days before the audience sees it and it gets judged by critics on the first night. There has been a lot of cuts of course. It is this sort of curious, strange thing that sort of grows.

I think that the minute you set something in stone you are doomed. The dancers training has changed, audiences have changed, everything changes all the time, it is quite important to understand that.

Manon originally premiered in 1974, almost half a century ago. Should one adapt the ballet to modern times, even if the main story remains the same?

What do you do with the sword fight? I was approached by a company that asked if they could set it in the current time and the designer hadn’t thought about that. We have to have to the sword fight, and I don’t know quite how you would do that in a modern dress.

Manon the sword fight

The famous sword fight, here between Des Grieux (Calum Lowden) and Monsieur G.M. (Daniel Norgren-Jensen). Photo Carl Thorborg

Manon is often described as one of ballet’s most complex heroines. What did Sir Kenneth MacMillan look for in a dancer when he casted this role?

I think he wanted a dancer who had some sort of allure who cause these sorts of seismic things to happen. Almost a child on her way to a convent, she just happened to have a dissolute brother. Kenneth always wanted to cast girls who have that attraction.

Will the new set and costumes in anyway change how we perceive the ballet?

The most important element for me, and it is the one that gets the least amount of time, is lighting. I am a painter and I know that the minute you change something you have to look at everything.

If you can’t see what is happening on the stage, you can’t get involved. That is my role, I don’t ever get involved about steps and things, but I do voice opinions about lighting.

How do you see your role as the custodian of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s works?

Well, I am getting old. My daughter is getting much more involved. It is a responsibility, but it also means that sometimes I have to be quite though because when enough time goes by people assume they can do things.

I have to say to companies, obviously the artistic director has the final say, that the casting must be in relationship to the person putting the ballet on. Manon is a tough part, and you need someone who is at the top of their game.

Manon Operan

Kenneth MacMillan's Manon at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. Photo the Royal Opera

How many members of your team have been involved staging Manon here in Stockholm?

Two. Karl Burnett came first to teach it and then he had to go to Paris and Robert Tewsley has then taken over.

I find it quite touching that some of these dancers who are coaching or teaching, and have had huge careers themselves, and are incredibly generous about handing on almost to the point where they want someone to trump their performances to actually do better than they did.

The Royal Swedish Ballet was the first company, outside of the UK, who staged Manon in 1980. Why was this?

Kenneth adored this company. This company did his Romeo first and then after Manon. I think he felt that the Royal Swedish Ballet had the same respect for the tradition of classical ballet. He never wanted to work with companies that did not have the classics to a very high standard.

If the artform is going to survive then that has to be the bedrock, the classics.

Anders Rosén
Manon will be performed at the Royal Swedish Opera again from September 1 to September 28.

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