Sir Kenneth MacMilllan's ballet Manon tells the story of ill-fated lovers Manon and des Grieux, who are torn between worlds of wealth and opulence and the stark misery of poverty. While the characters' circumstances are bleak, their love is the powerful and redeeming force that carries the ballet. In this clip, The Royal Ballet's Viviana Durante and Irek Mukhamedov bring the characters' passion to the forefront. The powerhouse duo, who danced together throughout the 1990s, were renown for their dramatic prowess; their Act III pas de deux in Manon is an exquisite display of raw emotion and refined technique.
Manon's final scene, set in a Louisiana bayou, is reminiscent of the moonlit settings in so many ballets, yet there is no supernatural element here; the pas de deux is utterly, and tragically, human. The couple, after Manon's arrest in France and deportation to America, is now on the run. Exhausted and weak, Manon clings desperately to des Grieux. Durante appears as though she's slowly collapsing with each step, despite highly technical choreography. She conceals her strength with languid legs and a limp upper body. Mukhamedov, on the other hand, shows his vigor by manipulating Durante through difficult partnering feats, especially at 1:07 when he tosses her into a tour en l'air and catches her. Although heartbreaking, Mukhamedov's anguished pleading over Manon's body as the curtain closes bring the ballet to a cathartic climax. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!