Making a rare visit to France and their first to Monte-Carlo since the 1970’s, The Royal Ballet completed their current season with three performances at the Grimaldi Forum in late June. I must admit to feelings of anxiety at the beginning of the first of these performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s acclaimed production of Manon. The auditorium was respectably filled, but not sold-out. There was no sign of the local royal patrons, nor of any local dance celebrities, and the Grimaldi Forum, although being an impressive, huge, modern building is more suited as a conference and congress centre. The resident opera and ballet companies use the 1800-seater theatre regularly, but this multi-purpose venue lacks the warmth of an opera house setting. My fears were increased when the curtain opened on Georgiadis’s sumptuous, but cluttered set and the dancers pranced and posed in their elaborate period costumes. Local theatre-goers are used to simple, slick but well-designed sets and minimal contemporary costumes for their long-legged, athletic dancers.

 Carlos Acosta is perhaps not well-suited to the role of Des Grieux with its controlled adagio choreography, created for Antony Dowell, leaving him few opportunities to show his considerable talents, and Leanne Benjamin seemed so diminutive and fragile she was in danger of getting lost on the crowded stage. However, with the first of Kenneth MacMillan’s highly emotional and choreographically inventive pas de deux, Benjamin, with Acosta a strong and supportive partner, won the audience over and the evening was saved. I felt that Benjamin’s physique left her not quite able to pull off Manon’s change of character to scheming courtesan, but her dancing was so exquisite, so impeccably executed, that she held the audience almost spellbound, and Acosta shone with some virtuoso leaps and a series of beautiful off-balance turns in attitude. If the ensemble dances seemed repetitive, and I find these curiously monotone, with very similar choreography for the aristocrats, the prostitutes and other characters, all the company made a strong impression and was dancing in top form. It was Leanne Benjamin’s final performance with the Royal Ballet and although most of the audience would have been unaware of this, she and all the dancers won a true ovation from the Monagasque audience.


 June 2013