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American Ballet Theatre - 'Manon'

Waving Good-Bye  to 'Manon' - Alessandra Ferri's Final Season with ABT

by Rosella Simonari

June 11, 2007 -- Metropolitan Opera Houe, Lincoln Center, NYC

The poster portraying Alessandra Ferri in “Manon” is a beautiful photograph by her husband, Fabrizio Ferri, who curiously has her same surname. They met in Pantelleria about ten years ago and they fell in love with each other. Out of their encounter came a splendid book of photographs, “Aria” [air], where Ferri is portrayed naked in black and white photographs against the dark rocks of the Sicilian island. This Manon photo is equally evocative and it shows Ferri’s tonic and flowing body in a cambré with her pointed shoes horizontally pressed to the floor.

Manon is a complex character who is often compared with Carmen because of her malicious choice of lust over love and maybe because she is an outcast after all. However, the two characters are very different. Carmen is born an outcast, while Manon becomes one after she is deported to Louisiana. Carmen is a Gypsy loyal to her people; Manon is alone with her mistakes. Carmen is a free woman who loves who she wants to love; Manon’s only love is Des Grieux. Carmen is killed by her lover; Manon dies in her lover’s arms. 

Manon is one of Ferri’s favourite roles and one that particularly suits her interpretative and technical qualities. Created in 1974 by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, it is a ballet in three acts inspired by Abbé Prevost’s 18th century novel. The novel was considered a scandalous work when it first appeared, and the ballet reflects its explicit eroticism especially in the two protagonists’ love duets.

Tonight Ferri will dance with Roberto Bolle, étoile at La Scala Ballet and her frequent partner in numerous international ballet productions. The house is starting to fill up with people. Included in the programme is a brief announcement stating that Manon’s brother will be danced by Ethan Stiefel and not by Herman Cornejo. Stiefel will prove an excellent Lescaut, full of brio in his opening solo and particularly funny in his drunken pas de deux with his mistress in Act II.

Ferri’s entrance is welcomed with warm applause, her movements are gracious and measured. In this part of the story she is Lescaut’s sister whose destiny is a life in a convent. Soon she notices the young Des Grieux, interpreted by a superb Roberto Bolle, and their encounter gradually turns into a burning passion.  MacMillan has the cinematic ability to structure different storylines running parallel to each other. Often the main storyline, Manon and Des Grieux’s love affair, takes place in the back or in a corner of the stage, while Lescaut’s duet with his mistress occurs while secondary scenes develop center stage. This location is an excellent device and it creates a special atmosphere of anticipation, enhancing the climax that is achieved when the two protagonists do perform their beautiful pas de deux..

Bolle and Ferri have a special affinity: He is tall and well built and perfectly masters his jumps and pirouettes. She is fluid and subtle and her technique is sublime. After Manon decides to be Monsieur G.M.’s partner, her character changes. She becomes more assertive and self-confident, recalling the Black Swan Odile, though her transformation is not as clear cut and it certainly is not the result of an evil spell. Manon is more fragile and human. During the intermission between Acts I and II, the couple who sit beside me enquire about the ballet. They have never seen such  ‘strange’ passages as those performed in the pas de trois by Manon, Lescaut and Monsieur G.M. I tell them that this is not a 19th century ballet; it is a more recent ballet which benefits from a wider vocabulary than that used in works like “Giselle” or “Swan Lake”. Still, it is true that MacMillan’s articulate footwork and his unusual use of lifts highlight a modern approach to ballet, one that gives it an exciting twist.

In their final duet, Bolle and Ferri are particularly intense and the audience repays them with an outburst of acclamation and applause. This is Ferri’s farewell season at the Met. At 44, at the height of her fame, she has decided to retire and dedicate her time to her family. It is a very courageous decision for a person who has given everything to dance and has received so much from it. During the curtain call, Ferri recurrently waves good-bye to the audience and symbolically to one of the roles that made her a star.

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