Eugene Onegin by the Royal Ballet

Alexander Pushkin's narrative poem Eugene Onegin is regarded in Russia with much the same reverence that Hamlet is regarded in the West: in the West the story is better known through Tchaikovsky's opera (also there have been several Russian filmed versions, and a 1999 one starring Ralph Fiennes). Less well known is the ballet version created by John Cranko in 1965, which was performed yesterday evening at the Royal Opera House.

The story concerns an impressionable young girl in 1820s Russia, Tatiana, who falls in love with the older and disillusioned Eugene Onegin. She writes him an indiscreet letter proclaiming her love; but he sees her only as an immature girl and rejects her, tearing up the letter. Onegin flirts with a Olga, Tatiana's sister who is engaged to Onegin's friend Lensky: Lensky, offended, challenges Onegin to a duel and is killed.

Years later Onegin returns from world-wide travel to find Tatiana married - with affection but not love - to the older Prince Gremin. Realizing that he now loves her, Onegin comes to her room and declares his love: but it is too late, and Tatiana , despite still loving him, rejects him.

This bare account of the narrative cannot convey the emotional depth of the characters, which is reflected both in the opera and the ballet: Cranko's sensitive choreography - set to a score drawn from Tchaikovsky's works (but not incuding any music from the opera) - involves us in the characters' plights.

In the Royal Ballet performance yesterday Tatiana was danced by Alina Cojocaru and Onegin by Johan Kobborg. The choreography is unusual among narrative ballets in that the characters of the protagonists change (in most of the familiar ballets they stay the same throughout), and both dancers gave a superb demonstration of mimed acting as well as dancing. At first Onegin is bored and condscending, while Tatiana is vulnerable and overwhelmed by her sudden love for him: at he birthday party he rejects her with embarrassment and is aloof to everyone to the point of rudeness. At the end of Act 2, after the duel, Tatiana confronts Onegin with a sudden maturity: in that moment she has lost her girlish innocence. In Act 3 she is now a mature woman and he loses his world-weariness in his shock at seeing her and finding he still loves her. Finally despite her passion for him - expressed in a vivid pas de deux - she rejects him and as the curtain falls is left alone in her despair.

Cojacaru's performance was great dancing and great acting - touching, involving and ultimately heartbreaking. Cranko's ballet deserves to be better known, and stands up equally with the familiar masterpieces.

Posted: Sun - April 1, 2007 at 08:55 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM