Cranko's Onegin is a thoughtful story ballet, based on Alexander Pushkin's verse-novel, which culminates with more psychologically weighted content to consider than the neatly romantic or sensationally tragic endings of traditional ballets like Coppelia, Swan Lake or Giselle. Onegin explores romantic fantasies that get shattered and then resolve in unexpected ways, caricature characters that transform through danced monologues of growth and personal discovery, and two- and three-part character interactions that develop not only the storyline but multiple layers and directions of emotionalism in relationships among lovers, friends and family.
The Royal Ballet's interpretation of the 1965 work plays deep into the individual personae of the four main characters—Onegin, Tatiana, Olga and Lensky—who carry the storyline through the three acts. Sketchy fabric-scenery in muted earth tones and a host of onstage witnesses (as relatives, countryfolk, and members of the St. Petersburg nobility) all provide understated enclosure of the four characters' central drama.
Sisters Olga (Marianela Nuñez) and Tatiana (Roberta Marquez) are defined by their differences from the outset of the ballet: Olga is tall, blond, outgoing and mischievous, while small and serious Tatiana lives inside her head and exchanges thoughts with her books. Equal in height with her fiancée Lensky, Olga engages confidently in playful exchanges with him, shaping a mature and contented partnership. Nuñez's bright, alert face and brazenly pert and elevated petit allegro serve to confirm Olga's security, whether or not in relation to Lensky.
Marquez communicates Tatiana's problematic lovesickness for an unresponsive Onegin by opposing Olga's free-felt expression. Her relentlessly tense brow attracts focus to Tatiana's nervous energy, bound but cycling within her. Cranko's contrasting quality of movement for Tatiana illuminates the character's desperate inner state. Tatiana's characteristic step throughout most of the ballet is a jittery bourrée trajectory, often traveling backward, physically manifesting her personal instability and anxiety about pouring out unreturned sentiment for Onegin (Thiago Sores).
Cranko's dance steps paint the characters' psychological portraits in a manner similar to the British choreographer, Antony Tudor, who conveyed emotion and created drama through the ballet vocabulary. Olga's arabesque, for instance, is active, strong and joyful, springing to full leg height with a lifted chest and fully committed placement of weight on the balancing point of her toe shoe. Onegin begins a brooding solo with repeated indecisively high or low arabesques, each more tellingly self-pitying with a gestured back of hand to forehead, weight leaning into his bent elbow as though he had no one in the world to depend on but himself.
During Onegin's alone time, Tatiana interrupts meekly in attempt to make his a dance for two. Tatiana's approaching arabesques are timid and low, shying as she approaches Onegin in waking time. Later in her dream pas de deux, in which she and Onegin are equally and passionately in love, Tatiana throws her weight forward in a diving pique arabesque, leaving none of her own strength or balance to save herself if Onegin were not present, attentive and willing to catch her. The dream scene choreography is built on giving one's body over to a partner's in a celebration of trust. Onegin lifts Tatiana repeatedly to affirm this while she gestures a hand to mouth in disbelief and delight of a fantasy fulfilled.
When reality returns, it is minimalist action that intensifies the ballet's physical drama. After a harmlessly intentioned flirtation between Onegin and Olga, Lensky (Valeri Hristov) challenges his friend to a duel and is shot to death. In a departure from highly sentimental music and acting from other ballet death scenes, Lensky's subdued and quickly executed death could be a more personal, interior experience for the audience. Cranko places the action upstage and behind a translucent scrim that covers the characters' lower legs so that the death and occluded fall does not create an emotional or structural climax.
The crafted centerpiece of the ballet is instead the transformation of the fragile Tatiana and the insensitive Onegin. With Lensky dead, Olga is also out of the picture and dramatic action intensifies with even fewer characters. Act III takes place years after the duel, when Tatiana has married a former suitor, Prince Gremin. The lonely Onegin encounters the princess and with his last drop of pride tries to win the woman he once refused.
Onegin comes to a triumphant finish as Tatiana, whose tiny figure has grown strong and determined in character, resists her former heartbreaker's pitiful pawing. Onegin melts at her feet before she sends him out the door with a forcefully pointed finger indicating the location of the nearest exit. For a ballet beginning with Tatiana's girlish dream of being chosen and saved by a tall dark and handsome to end with the fully
matured, feminist heroine standing center stage sends a message as subtle and meaningful as the drastically different arabesques.
The Royal Ballet
Director- Monica Mason
Ballet in three acts
Choreography and libretto- John Cranko
(after a verse-novel by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)
Music- Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
Arranged and orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze
(by arrangement with Edition Modern AG)
Staging by Jane Bourne
Set and costumes by Jürgen Rose (Munich, 1972)
Lighting- Steen Bjarke
Copyright- Dieter Graefe
Senior Ballet Master- Christopher Carr
Ballet Mistress- Ursula Hageli
Principal Coaching- Alexander Agadzhanov, Jane Bourne, Lesley Collier, Donald MacLeary
Conductor- Valeriy Ovsyanikov
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Concert Master- Vasko Vassilev
Eugene Onegin- Thiago Soares
Lensky- Valeri Hristov
Madame Larina- Christina Arestis
Tatiana- Roberta Marquez
Olga- Marianela Nuñez
Their Nurse- Kristen McNally
Prince Gremin- Bennet Gartside
With Artists of The Royal Ballet, Students of The Royal Ballet School