Sylvie's Class Act; DANCE

Article excerpt

Byline: SARAH FRATER

Royal Ballet/Manon

Royal Opera House

IS Manon Sylvie Guillem's finest role? At last night's opening night of The Royal Ballet's current run, the French ballerina left you gaping as she went from convent runaway to luscious courtesan to moral and emotional pileup.

Manon is a big-scale costume drama set in 18th century Paris, with sword fights, whorehouses, a Louisiana swamp, guns, card cheats, street urchins, and much else besides. But with Guillem you see detail. You see her thinking: shall I steal the old man's money? Shall I live in penniless love with Des Grieux or cushy corruption with Monsieur G.M?

And as she inches her skirts upwards, you see her twig her sexual allure and realise how she will enjoy using it.

Acting-wise, Guillem is pitch perfect. As for her dancing, it looks as strong and true as it did a decade ago and, despite approaching her 40 birthday, her body conveys extreme youth. If anything, age has seen her ease up on her technique, and speak instead with turn of the head, or the arch of a foot. …