Posted 23 April 1999 - 09:25 AM
It was wildly popular in America when the Stuttgart first brought it in the '60s (and wildly popular in Stuttgart). There was the usual divide among critics here, with Clive Barnes saying it was a masterpiece and that Cranko was a great choreographer, and Arlene Croce practically throwing up in Ballet Review, in one of the most passionate, partly vicious, partly funny assessments of a ballet and a company ever written (in which she coined the phrase "pop ballet" of "Onegin," predicting, direly, that it would be the direction ballet would head.)
I missed "Onegin" in its bloom of youth, not seeing it until the late 1970s, and I've always found it very dependent on its cast. I've seen wretched "Onegins," that make Croce's review seem kind, and I've seen very fine ones. I take her point that it's a simplistic retelling of both the poem and the opera, but find the other complaint of anti-Oneginers -- that its structure is too simple, there are no small classical roles (one of the elements that makes a ballet choreographically complex) -- accurate, but not insurmountable. It suited the very young company (many were upset that Cranko had created a work that made his very young company look like a very grand and comparatively established one, i.e., the Royal at that time); we don't know what Cranko would have accomplished had he been able to develop that company had he not died so young.
How do we divide over "Onegin" now? A grand, new idea of ballet, or the end of civilization as we know it? Or something in between?
[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited April 23, 1999).]
Posted 23 April 1999 - 10:35 AM
Posted 23 April 1999 - 10:47 AM
Posted 23 April 1999 - 10:52 AM
That being said, I saw Stuttgart do Onegin last summer at the Lincoln Center Festival I *think* Tamas Dietrich was Onegin, Yseult Lendvai was Tatiana, Vladimir Malakhov was Lensky. I didn't find it a very moving event, but I think Mary's assessment of the work as cast dependent is on target, at least in a positive sense that a great cast can create magic. There are two very fine pas de deux in it, but they seem oddly divorced from the plot of the ballet to me. And I was just laughing at the trio for Olga, Tatiana and Lensky before the duel. The formations they drop into and out of made them look like an overwrought water pump.
I think this ties back to the Manon conversation where we were speaking of US/Continental/UK splits. Much as story dance is about the only dance that sells to a general populace in the US, it gets an awful lot less respect among aficionados here, who were raised on Balanchine and other proponents of abstract dance. If you're going to have a plot, it had *better* work in dance, and it had better be most eloquently expressed within dance. I think it's why the Romeo and Juliets of both Cranko and MacMillan are in repertory here. They really succeed as dance.
Posted 23 April 1999 - 12:00 PM
I am fortunate to have seen some truly great casts of Tatiana in "Onegin" in London with the then London Festival Ballet in the 1980s - Marcia Haydee (the creator of the role), Natalia Makarova, Eva Evdokimova, Maximova, Lynn Seymour. My favourite among this short list is Lynn Seymour who in 1988 (the weekend before the Kirov's London season) gave the most moving interpretation.
Posted 23 April 1999 - 05:35 PM
Fascinating that perhaps ballet could do it! Thanks for that thought Leigh. I would love to hear what a Russian language reader who has read the poem and seen the ballet has to say. Sorry to diverge, since I can't really comment on Onegin the ballet. I find the poem (in translation) less than inspiring though.
Posted 07 May 1999 - 10:44 AM
be danced this week-end by the Ballet de Nice in Nice.
I've read that the former POB principals Charles Jude
and Monique Loudieres will dance it as guest stars (so there'll be quite a lot
of ballerina/ˆo polish ). Pity there's a train strike
in Marseille now...
Posted 08 May 1999 - 02:07 AM
Posted 08 May 1999 - 07:53 AM
I found your comment about irony especially interesting. Irony is a Danish specialty, and perhaps that was the key to it. Onegin (Arne Villumsen) wasn't a cad -- the production had an absolute sense of place and cast -- and Tatania (Heidi Ryom) was bookish and awkward. In the dream scene, they did something I've never seen, and that absolutely made the ballet. You knew it was a dream. It was that simple. It wasn't just First Pas De Deux. Villumsen began it cold and distant, and, as the pas de deux progressed, became increasingly warm and ardent -- he became her dream. The performance made me wonder all the more, is it the dance or the dancers. Can a ballet be mediocre choreographically and great in performance? (The reverse is certainly true.) In this one instance, the answer was yes. Which leads to the next question. If a ballet can seem great in performance, yet mediocre in most performances, who's "fault" is it?
Posted 08 May 1999 - 11:44 PM
Posted 30 May 1999 - 02:39 PM
It is, believe me, a real strange and very interesting experience to read your distant, neutral comments to one of the ballets that made me fall in love with ballet some twenty years ago. In Stuttgart, Onegin not only is a classic - it is the bible, the ballet of ballets. That may be a LITTLE exaggerated, I admit, since by now even the Cranko fans have discovered that some other choreographers exist outside of Stuttgart who do very fine ballets as well, but Onegin is considered by many here as the best of Cranko's ballets. It is in the repertory at Stuttgart since its premiere in 1965, and I don't think it will ever disappear, as it continues to be sold out whenever it is on the schedule.
I saw it at least thirty or forty times with the most different casts, and very often with Marcia Haydée and Richard Cragun. If you had ever seen Marcia Haydée in the final scene, you simply could not talk like this. I remember her last performance as Tatjana some years ago: after the final curtain, the house was completely silent for almost a whole minute, as if shocked about her passion, her deep feelings. You don't get that heavy, hurting feeling in your throat when you see some Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake. Maybe it is a feeling you don't expect to have in a ballet, but in a play with great actors.
Like almost all the Cranko ballets, Onegin is not a ballet made to show technical highlights on stage, but it is a dramatic ballet, made to tell and a to interpret a story (and therefore it needs to watched from a point rather near to the stage). Did any of you consider this ballet as a dramatic work? Take for example the way Cranko uses the mirror as a symbol of self-reflection: in act one, Tatjana sees Onegin for the first time when she looks in Olga's mirror so very thoughtfully, sitting at the table. Then in her room she looks at her picture in the mirror again, trying to find out about her feelings, and Onegin appears through the mirror. And in the last scene, she is facing herself again in the mirror when he appears.
Take all the nuances, the small gestures that describe the characters, like for example Onegin tapping with his hands on the back when Tatjana annoys him with her books, or take the way Tatjana looks at Onegin after he shot Lenski, that expression "why did you have to go this far to show me you don't love me?". Take the Gremin pas de deux, in which you can see very clearly that Tatjana is at some kind of peace with herself and with her husband, but that she is not happy. Take the corps de ballet in the same scene: the cold and proud, almost cruel behaviour of this society. I don't know any other choreographer who can make a state of mind, a character, a situation or even a thought so clear, so understandable as Cranko. Just by steps and movements. That in truth is his unique art.
Onegin definitely needs great dancers. If you see it with mediocre dancers, it loses very much or even all of its quality. The title role needs a dancer who is a REAL good partner, because the lifts are quite difficult and they only look the way they were intended to look when the dancers throw themselves in the movements without any fear. Which happens seldom enough, even in Stuttgart, where they know and keep the Cranko tradition. This ballet also needs intelligent dancers with dramatic talent. Like in all Cranko ballets, every step has a meaning, and if the dancers are not up to that meaning, if they do not understand what Cranko says with this specific step or this port de bras, they cannot fulfil this step, they cannot dance it like it was intended to be. And it looks meaningless.
I completely agree with you about the strange look of some of the steps and movements, and I am sure Cranko would have made changes had he lived longer. My favourite "don't look!" is the sandwich with Onegin between the two girls after Onegin hit Lenski with the glove. But on the other hand: the mirror pas de deux and the final pas de deux rest among the most moving theatrical experiences I know. Ever.
That was a rather long declaration of love, I fear.
Posted 30 May 1999 - 06:16 PM
Posted 15 June 1999 - 12:45 AM
Posted 16 January 2012 - 10:37 PM
I've never seen it in hte theater. I know the poem in several translations -- including Nabokov's maniacal version -- but not in the Russian. I Leigh is certainly right that it holds a place in hte hearts of Russians that is like that of Dante's Commedia in Italian and Hamlet (maybe) in English --since the verse is strict but the way the language is used sounds at every point like what any Russian would say in those circumstances -- i.e., that is what RUssian sounds like. Something like that.
It's also the case that many Russian aesthetes have said, they feel like Onegin. Bored like that -- like Hamlet, in fact."What a piece of work is man!.How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty.... et cetera but not to me, he says. How weary stale, flat and unprofitable to me are all hte uses of this world.'
I can't wait to see it -- how can you say a subject is not likely for ballet that has TWO ball scenes in it.
Guest Angela, thank you for your treasury of insights -- that is such a gift to us. Have you seen the clip on youtube of Alina Cojocaru in hte dream scene/letter aria?
She's tiny, and it helps -- The lifts here have an inexpressible lightness and innocence to them, almost like a father playing whoops-a-girl with his child. It's very characteristic, hte look of this, the way she's swung up into he air and then lbrought easily, lightly, with no friction, no jolt, all the way down to hte ground, sitting, almmost LYING on the ground.
Posted 17 January 2012 - 07:37 AM
I'll just add that ABT is also performing Onegin this spring. One of the casts includes both Diana Vishneva and Natalia Osipova.
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