Choreography: Kenneth MacMillan

Music: Jules Massenet, arranged and orchestrated by Martin Yates

Lighting design: Mikki Kunttu

Design and costumes: Mia Stensgaard

Conductor: Gavin Sutherland

Review: Jane Sullivan

KENNETH MacMillan’s Manon may not be familiar to everyone, but this dramatic story is now unfolding before new audiences as English National Ballet takes it on tour outside London for only the second time in over 30 years.

This passionate ballet set in 18th century France has a gorgeous score, magnificent choreography, and a complex heroine at its heart.

Pared back sets put the spotlight firmly on the dancers, as the tragic tale of an innocent convent girl swaying between love and lucre unfolds in the main through a series of dramatic pas de deux.

The rest of the story is told around them in a series of vignettes acted so skillfully that it is sometimes hard to concentrate on the principal dancers – a problem artfully tackled in Act II when the entire ensemble freezes for Manon’s captivating dance between her two lovers.

Erina Takahashi is entrancing as Manon: giddy and sensual as she falls passionately in love with the penniless student Des Grieux; calculating and triumphant as she accepts the furs and diamonds showered on her by the wealthy, toe-curlingly lecherous Monsieur GM.

As she dances to her death in Des Grieux’s arms in the billowing smoke of a Louisiana swamp, Takahashi’s frailty is heartbreaking.

This is a ballet that is just as famous for its acting demands as it is its expressive choreography, and Jeffery Cirio as Des Grieux brings youthful joy and heartbreaking despair in equal measure, while Dmitri Gruzdyev is strong as the shudderingly detestable Monsieur GM.

Ken Saruhashi as Manon’s manipulative brother Lescaut dances with astonishing balance and precision, soaring through impossibly high leaps and delivering a superbly entertaining drunken solo in Act II.

From the sweeping romantic score to the dramatic lighting and smoke and rust-coloured costumes, everything is designed to be the perfect backdrop to the emotions unfolding on stage.

Dramatic and captivating, Manon is a ballet that deserves to be seen by a wider audience – it should venture outside London more often.