Royal Danish Ballet
17th May 2008
It was very much a bitter-sweet occasion, the farewell performance of that Danish Adonis Kenneth Greve, but his timing was impeccable with a general feeling among the audience that he was bowing out pretty much at the top of his game. He dedicated the performance to his wife Marie-Pierre Greve and to the memory of Rudolf Nureyev.
This was the first time I had seen the Royal Danish Ballet dance John Cranko’s Onegin and without a shadow of a doubt it was the finest performance of that ballet I have ever seen, perhaps it is the fact that the stage in Copenhagen is marginally narrower than at the two main houses in London where I’ve previously seen Onegin danced by at least three other companies that makes the difference, as the sets seem less stretched out and in particular there is a more intimate feel to the crucial scene in Tatiana’s bedroom.
The four principals were Greve as Onegin, Gudrun Bojeson as Tatiana, Femke Mølbach Slot as Olga and Marcin Kupinski as Lensky, a perfect quartet of lethally dissimilar characters. When Greve’s Onegin makes his entrance, his height and bearing mark him out as perfect for the role, courteous but ever so slightly condescending, he charms everyone while stifling his inner ennui: Bojeson’s sweetly naïve Tatiana doesn’t stand a chance of remaining indifferent to the handsome stranger in her garden. The bedroom pas de deux following their first encounter was a whirl of romanticism as the idealized Onegin steps through the mirror to become the lover of Tatiana’s dreams leaving her in a state of starry-eyed anticipation at the thought of their next meeting.
Dreams and reality collide at the Larin’s party with Onegin barely able to hide his disdain of the cosy provincial gathering he finds himself in and how impressive this scene is with the full complement of the company’s matchless character dancers on stage as the unsophisticated guests so different from the urbane gatherings of Onegin’s St Petersburg circle. This is the scene where Onegin proves himself a thorough cad: he snatches flirty willing Olga from Lensky and then taunts him just for the hell of it; he rips up Tatiana’s love letter and breaks her heart simply to relieve the tedium. The violent reaction of the highly strung Lensky wasn’t in his game plan though and the ensuing duel scene is beautifully balanced between the despair of the doomed Lensky, superbly portrayed by Marcin Kupinski as a young man fearfully facing death behind a mask of resignation while struggling with inner panic, and the cool implacable Onegin whose attempts at mediation are far too ineffective to soothe Lensky’s wounded pride.
Time passes and Tatiana has married steady, reliable Prince Gremin (Byron Mildwater) whom she met that fateful night when Onegin rejected her. Now a poised Petersburg hostess her path crosses Onegin’s once more, but this time it is he who is smitten. In the final pas de deux the supreme acting skills of Greve and Bojeson came to the fore as she remembers the doomed love of her youth whilst he passionately attempts to seduce her. The older Tatiana though is a wiser woman, capable of weighing up her re-awakened fervour for the near irresistible Onegin against her life of marital contentment with Gremin and if Onegin has a heart left to break, then she must surely have shattered it as she casts him aside in the same callous manner as he once discarded her.
It was very powerful stuff with what for me will be the definitive interpretation of Onegin from the man of the night, Kenneth Greve. His acting skills are remarkable and he can tell us everything about the character of Onegin by the way he walks onto the stage and by an almost imperceptible curl of the lip and lifting of an eyebrow, everything is understated but every tiny gesture projects into the audience. He is a remarkable performer even before he begins to dance with that magnetic presence of his but his dancing remains a thing of beauty with the unforced lines and clean turns that mark him out as a product of the Danish school. He is a perfect partner and his duets with Bojeson were faultless with each lift making her appear to have no more substance than air. What an asset Kenneth Greve has been to the Royal Danish Ballet and how grateful his loyal audience were as they bruised their hands in applause and stamped their feet as this wonderful dancer made his farewell to the stage. As he stood centre stage acknowledging the audience’s outpourings of appreciation he was presented with a bouquet of roses tied with ribbons in the Danish colours of red and white. The roses didn’t stay in his possession for long though as he brought on stage his wife, popular principle dancer Marie-Pierre Greve, who will also be leaving the company when the couple move to Finland together. Marie-Pierre suffered an injury recently I’m told which denied her an official farewell of her own, but as her husband handed her the flowers and led her forward she too was greeted with gales of applause from her many fans in the audience.
Kenneth Greve had dedicated the performance to his wife but also to Rudolf Nureyev, who had fallen in love with Kenneth shortly before his death and had nurtured the dancer in the early stages of his career. Rudolf’s love was to be unrequited but his commitment to the young dancer transcended his infatuation and a bond of respect was formed between the two. How very fine of Kenneth Greve to remember his former mentor on this special day.