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Royal Danish Ballet


by Kate Snedeker

April 10, 2008 -- Royal Theatre, Copenhagen 

The most difficult performance can often be the night after a major premiere or re-premiere. The Royal Danish Ballet's second performance of Cranko's "Onegin", though marked by several excellent performances, lacked the fire and polish of Wednesday's opening night.

The evening's major debut was that of corps member Marcin Kupinski as Lensky, the young poet and fiancé of Olga. Unfortunately, a last minute change in the cast meant that he was paired with Femke Mølbach Slot instead of the original scheduled Cecilie Lassen. Slot, who was one of the highlights of Wednesday's performance, danced commendably given the circumstances, but she and Kupinski are not a natural pairing. Kupinski, for his part, deserves praise for the quality of his partnering in the Act 1 pas de deux, despite the late change of Olgas. As has already been showcased in such ballets as "Etudes", Kupinski is an elegant and technically capable dancer. In his final solo, the extension in the jumps and lunges was especially noteworthy (though his line was marred by the fact that his jacket was, for reasons unknown, unfastened throughout the act). However, as beautiful as his positions are, there is still a jerkiness to his transitions that creates a slight break in the flow of the dancing. Also, his acting is still a work in progress, with the emotion of the role not quite reflected in his face or his hands.

With the roles of the young lovers in capable, if not well-matched hands, the principal roles were taken on by two veterans of the ballet, Gudrun Bojesen and Mads Blangstrup. At 31, Bojesen is probably in her last years of being credible as the young Tatiana; there's a very fine line to be tread in casting this role because the ballerina must be young enough to play an innocent girl but accomplished enough to develop the character and master the complicated choreography. However, there is no doubt about Bojesen's ability to create a complex and nuanced character and to push Cranko's choreography to its emotional extreme.

Opposite her was Mads Blangstrup in a role that plays to his strengths as a dramatic and passionate dancer. As with his performance in "La Sylphide" two weeks ago, there seems to be a slight hesitation in his dancing, which I assume is related to the back injury that kept him off the stage for many months. Blangstrup is never one to give less than a fully committed performance, but I miss the gorgeous full-out arch of his back and notice the occasional lift that doesn't quite soar to its full potential. Yet, he and Bojesen are consummate professionals, adjusting and accommodating so that these hesitations are noticeable only to the most practiced of eyes.

Bojesen's Tatiana is not quite so innocent as some, but equally as crushed by the haughty Onegin. On this occasion, though impeccably performed, the dream pas de deux did not come alive as it might have. Part of the problem, perhaps, was a less than attentive audience, but also Blangstrup's (for good reason) focus on the complicated partnering. A passionate and emotional dancer who has an incredibly expressive face and hands, Blangstrup looked much more at home when he wasn't having to lift Bojesen.

When considering the dream pas de deux, it is worth noting Jürgen Rose's stunning original sets. Hand painted and heavily layered, each set brings to life the story, but allow for dramatic transformations. In the opening scene, the Larin's country house is depicted on the back drape, the surrounding birch trees depicted in delicate detail on overlapping panels.

Tatiana's enormous bedchamber is cleverly created via the use of a richly painted backdrop that creates the illusion of a corner extending back from the audience and a heavily ornamented, corniced ceiling. Layers of heavy 'lace' curtains and deeply coloured draperies make the room feel a bit claustrophobic - a world that Tatiana is trying to escape through her romance novels and infatuation with Onegin.

Yet, despite the sumptuous appearance of the room - and that of the ballroom in the next act, it takes but a simple change of the lighting (Steen Bjarke) to make the walls completely translucent, bathing the room in an eerie blue - the color of dreams. Bjarke's lighting also creates an unforgettable mood in the lead-up to the fatal duel: the crisp outlines of trees at the cusp of spring bloom are visible against the pale yellow sky of dawn; the light slowly creeping into the rising sun and clouds of morning fog rolling off the stage. Anyone who has lived or stayed for a while in the country can relate to that first blush of light, when the earth is still warming and the day has to decide its fate.

Kurt-Heinze Stolze's orchestration of Tchaikovsky's music also adds infinitely to the ballet. Stolze drew from a variety of sources, primarily piano concertos, but specifically avoided using music from Tchaikovsky's score for the opera Eugene Onegin. From the very beginning, the music provides a subtle clue as to the characters and their fates. The light-hearted, gentle music for Olga and Lensky is as simple and sweet as they are, yet has a slightly mournful undertone. This mournful melody repeats itself in Lensky's final solo. When Onegin appears for the first time, the cheerful music switches to a deeper, more complex melody, again with an undertone of minor chords. It's a musical theme that reappears whenever Onegin is present.

Returning to Blangstrup and Bojesen, both seemed to hit their stride in the second act. Blangstrup throws himself into the emotion of the role, and it's fascinating to see the emotion play on his face and through his body language. The disgust over being 'trapped' in the party, and over Tatiana's overt courting of him, is clear from the arrogant look on his face, and the aloofness of his stance.  At one point, when the party-goers are dancing in a long line, Onegin finds himself dancing opposite the adoring Tatiana. He steps back slightly, standing out from the otherwise straight line of men.  His body is subtly twisted, eyebrows and lips pursing; a look of annoyance perfectly created. The final showdown with Lensky is volatile, Blangstrup reeling across the stage after the (mock) slaps from the insulted Lensky.

The crescendo of their acting and dancing continued into the third act, despite a number of glaring miscues by the corps during the ballroom scene (including one unfortunate collision front and centre). One moment that can be easily missed is that of Onegin's recognition of Tatiana as she dances with her now husband, Prince Gremin (endearingly and patiently danced in a debut by Byron Mildwater). Onegin, at first faintly, and then clearly, realizes that the beautiful woman in front of him is the girl he spurned so many years ago. It's at the moment of recognition that Blangstrup, for the first time, opens his eyes wide open. Walking across the front of the stage, half turned to the audience, a series of emotions flash across his face - pain, grief, then a half-crazed look. It is a remarkable display of acting ability and these few seconds tell the story in a nutshell.

Bojesen, for her part, really shines in this final act where she takes on the persona of the mature Tatiana. In the penultimate pas de deux, we see the battle between her youthful romantic side and her mature, honourable side. One lift aside, Blangstrup seemed much stronger and assured in this last act, freeing him to focus as much on the emotion as the dance. Again, we saw the wide-open eyes expressing an anguish mixed with the fear of losing love and the passion of finding true love, however briefly. In the signature lift, where Onegin yanks Tatiana up from the floor by one hand into a soaring split, Blangstrup and Bojesen hit the crescendo of the music perfectly. Yet even as Onegin sends her heart soaring, Tatiana realizes that she is no longer his, and while her body is convulsed in a heart-wrenching sob, her arm points to the door. And thus it ends.

Graham Bond conducted the outstanding Royal Orchestra.

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