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Royal Ballet - 'Onegin'

by Rosie

June 3, 2004 – Royal Opera House, London

There’s always less of John Cranko’s “Onegin” than I think there’s going to be and its economy takes me by surprise. It’s a short ballet, and while economy can be a virtue, to give “Onegin” its power and depth you need an extremely strong and balanced cast in the four lead roles. As the ballet requires the dancers to work so hard at the roles, if Onegin, Tatiana, Olga and Lensky are undercast, the ballet can fall flat.

I feel that Cranko’s choreography leaves Onegin underdeveloped as a character and so you need a powerful dance-actor to make him live and make us understand his behaviour and the demons that haunt him. Lensky and Onegin’s friendship is not set up for us on stage, so we need the dancers to make us believe their relationship. Olga is left as a one dimensional character stuck with sweet and girlish choreography and Lensky needs to be more than a hot headed youth to make the tragic duel more than exaggerated melodrama. So a crack team is needed to fill in the gaps and, while immensely enjoyable, Thursday’s performance didn’t quite have that.

Tatiana is much better served by Cranko than the other characters, especially when performed by Mara Galeazzi. Two years ago, I felt Galeazzi was by far the most effective Tatiana, and, if anything, she’s even better this time around. She moves from awkward young dreamer to mature woman with ease and you completely believe her transformation. She reveals Tatiana’s tragedy with sensitivity, each moment portrayed vividly and powerfully. She is completely torn and shattered in the final pas de deux as she rejects Onegin’s advances. Galeazzi is a dangerous actress, sometimes frightening and unsettling in the strength of feeling and emotion she portrays on stage. This was a wonderfully moving performance.

Martin Harvey was a good Onegin, acting well, dancing well, and with a strong and authoritative presence. A weakness, though, was his partnering. Though much stronger in the final act, the ‘mirror’ pas de deux seemed a bit beyond him. He looked tentative and Galeazzi wasn’t able to fully abandon herself to him. The result was that the big climaxes were missed and the pacing was too even.

Slightly underpowered partnering was also the flaw with Edward Watson’s recent performances as Romeo. Harvey and Watson, both first soloists, are showing themselves capable of breaking through to the next level, but how are they going to develop the necessary strength and confidence needed to tackle the major pas de deux (let alone their technique, acting skills and stage presence) if they’re only thrown a full length role once every couple of years? In my opinion both deserve to be more than ‘promising’, but without the roles it looks like they’ll have to carry that label around with them for a while longer.

Valeri Hristrov and Gemma Bond gave enthusiastic performances as Olga and Lensky and were a sweet and handsome couple, but their dancing is as yet too rough around the edges and acting too immature to give the roles enough nuance and depth. This unbalanced the performance and relegated these two characters to supporting actor status, when really they should play a full and integrated part in the action. An enjoyable night, then, with creditable performances, but, with the exception of Galeazzi, not a performance with the passionate intensity that Onegin has the potential to arouse.

Edited by Jeff.

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