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American Ballet Theatre

'Onegin'

by Colleen Boresta

May 18(m), 2013 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

American Ballet Theatre’s first production of their 2013 Met season is John Cranko’s ‘Onegin’. Cranko choreographed the work for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965. He was not allowed to use any music from the Tschaikovsky opera ‘Eugene Onegin’, so Cranko asked Kurt-Heinz Stolze to arrange and orchestrate lesser known Tschaikovsky pieces into a coherent whole.

Based on Pushkin’s narrative poem, the ballet is divided into three acts. In Act I, Scene I Madame Lavina and her daughter, Olga, are discussing the arrangements for the birthday of Madame Lavina’s younger daughter, Tatiana. Tatiana, as usual, is spending her time reading a romantic novel. Then Olga’s fiancé, the poet Lensky, arrives with a friend from St. Petersburg.

The friend, Onegin, bored of city life, has come to see if the country can offer him any diversions. Tatiana, whose head is always in the clouds, falls in love with the handsome stranger who is so different from the rural boys she knows.

In Scene II of Act I, Tatiana dreams that Onegin has come to her room. She dances a passionate pas de deux with the fantasy Onegin. When she awakens, Tatiana writes a letter to Onegin, telling him how much she loves him. She gives her nurse the note to deliver to the visitor from the capital city.

Act II begins with the celebration of Tatiana’s birthday. Onegin is bored by the festivities and is annoyed with Tatiana’s love letter. Onegin tears up the letter, telling Tatiana that he does not love her. To relieve the tedium of the party, Onegin flirts with Olga. Thinking that it is all in fun, Olga joins in on the play. Lensky, however, is very upset with the behavior of his fiancée and his friend and challenges Onegin to a duel. Olga and Tatiana try to get Lensky to stop the duel, but he refuses. The duel is fought and Onegin kills his friend.

When Act III starts it is several years after the death of Lensky. Onegin returns to St. Petersburg to attend a ball at the home of Prince Gremin. There Onegin is shocked to discover that Tatiana is now the wife of the Prince. He also finally realizes that he is deeply in love with Tatiana. Onegin writes her a leter, declaring his passion. He then comes to see her in her boudoir, but it is too late. Tatiana still loves Onegin, but she is now the loyal wife of Prince Gremin. Though it clearly costs her enormously, Tatiana’s tears up Onegin’s missive and tells him to leave and never return.

John Cranko’s choreography for ‘Onegin’ thoroughly complements Tschaikovsky’s music. The story told on the stage is very clear to the audience. It doesn’t hurt to read the program notes before the ballet begins, but it is not needed for an understanding of the piece. All of Cranko’s choreograpy for Onegin is goregeous, but the two pas de deux for Tatiana and Onegin at the end of Acts I and III are beyond compare. The lifts and holds show the absolute beauty of ballet as an art form.

Since Pushkin’s long narrative poem is telescoped into a 90 minute work (not counting the two intermissions) certain events don’t make as much sense as they might. The audience does not get to see Onegin’s struggles in the years between the duel and Prince Gremin’s ball. Therefore, it is a bit hard to understand why Onegin has had a change of heart with regard to his feelings for Tatiana.

As Tatiana, Polina Semionova is a very believable young girl, with lovely extensions and a gorgeously pliable upper body. Semionova’s Tatiana is so completely in love with Onegin that her reaction when he rips up her letter breaks my heart. Her transition from naïve young country girl to Prince Gremin’s adoring wife is beautifully seamless. Semionova’s raw pain and anguish as she rejects Onegin forever brings tears to my eyes.

David Hallberg was born to play Onegin. At the beginning of the ballet his acting is a bit understated, but it fits Onegin’s cold hauteur perfectly. No ABT dancer does the “I am superior to everyone in the world” aristocrat quite like Hallberg. Onegin’s character, however, begins to change when he kills his friend in a duel. During Prince Gremin’s Act III ball, Hallberg’s Onegin is a lost soul whose only hope lies in reclaiming Tatiana’s love. It is clear how the mighty have fallen as Onegin grovels before Tatiana in her boudoir, frantic to attain her. When she finally rejects him, Hallberg displays Onegin’s desperate emotional state with every inch of his face and body.

Yuriko Kajiya’s Olga stands out for her delicately lyrical dancing and beautiful use of her hands. Her character, however, is an enigma. This is my fourth performance of Cranko’s ‘Onegin’ and I still can’t understand why Olga continues to flirt with Onegin when she sees how much it hurts Lensky. Due to Joseph Gorak’s incredible portrayal I do understand Lensky. Gorak’s poet is a truly noble young man who has been hurt deeply by both his fiancée and best friend. He thrills the audience with his wonderfully light leaps and plush landings. Gorak’s line is so perfect that his solo before the duel becomes a powerful soliloquy. Roddy Doble is an affectionate and devoted Prince Gremin. The audience can plainly see why Tatiana cares for him so deeply.

What a beautifully emotional afternoon at the ballet. I only hope American Ballet Theatre keeps ‘Onegin’ in their repertoire for many years to come.

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