Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon depicts the lives of libertines and the demi-monde, a group of people typified by the extravagant and at times amoral behaviour found in books like Dangerous Liaisons, where young women are routinely seduced as a game and life consists of countless affairs, drinking and gambling. Such behaviour was of course linked with the wealthy ruling class of 18th-century France.
Manon is lured by the libertine lifestyle, which in the end brings about her downfall. In Act I, she is about to enter a French convent. She ends up branded a prostitute and sent to Louisiana as a prisoner, where she dies in the arms of her lover Des Grieux. While she is forever torn between her love for Des Grieux and her desire for wealth, those around her are less torn. Her brother sells her off to the highest bidder, while others covet her beauty.
It’s the extravagant opulence of the wealthy elite that endures as one of the main themes and aesthetic highlights of the ballet. Manon’s costumes in particular hint at the style of the period: frilled sleeves, bows and intricate embellishments, square necklines and heavily corseted dresses. There is nothing simple or subdued about 18th-century style, which finds new life in the over-the-top, excess-loving fashion of contemporary designers such as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood.
Manon invites its audience to be seduced along with its heroine: to be lost in brocade and silk, embroidery and fine detail, jewels and lace, French perfumery, corsets galore and the kind of impractical extravagance that belongs to the rich. Along with this seduction comes a bite, but a tasty bite. As Marie Antoinette famously didn’t say, let them eat cake.
See Manon – with opulent costumes by famed theatre designer Peter Farmer – in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in 2014.
Indulge in Manon’s lavish style!
Image 1, left to right:
Mistress Masquerade gold-plated crystal mask by Erickson Beamon
“Elizabetta” 18th-century Gown by Rossetti Couture
“Rosella” 18th-century Style Wedding Dress by Rossetti Couture
Beauty Queen Dress by Vivienne Westwood
Dress from Alexander McQueen’s Fall 2013 Ready-to-Wear Collection
“Ophelia” 18th-century Corset by Rossetti Couture
Image 2, left to right:
Let Them Eat Cake Lip Balm by Tokyo Milk
Embroidered Angel Knucklebox Clutch by Alexander McQueen
Outfit from the 2013 Chanel Resort Collection