Kenneth MacMillan's acclaimed tragic ballet is a modern masterpiece.
Manon's brother Lescaut is offering her to the highest bidder when she meets Des Grieux and falls in love. They elope to Paris, but when Monsieur G.M. offers Manon a life of luxury as his mistress she cannot resist.
Kenneth MacMillan began work on Manon shortly after the birth of his only daughter. His source was the 18th-century French novel by Abbé Prévost, already adapted twice for opera by Massenet and Puccini. Renowned dance musician Leighton Lucas and his assistant Hilda Gaunt provided a score made from a patchwork of works by Massenet, including his famous yearning Elégie as the theme for the lovers. The premiere was given on 7 March 1974, 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. MacMillan found new sympathy with the capricious Manon, bringing his customary psychological insight and the memories of his own impoverished upbringing. He described his heroine as 'not so much afraid of being poor as ashamed of being poor'. Designs by MacMillan's friend Nicholas Georgiadis reflect this, depicting a world of lavish splendour polluted by miserable poverty. 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 work, Romeo and Juliet – that drive this tragic story, and make Manon one of MacMillan's most heartbreaking dramas.