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Onegin


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 23 April 1999 - 09:25 AM

We've beaten -- or praised -- poor "Manon" a lot lately, and it seems that there are those who feel that it's one of the great masterpieces of ballet, and those who would still argue that it was second-rate, at best, were it granted the Nobel Peace Prize. I'm curious to know what you all think of Cranko's "Onegin?"

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?

alexandra

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited April 23, 1999).]

#2 cargill

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Posted 23 April 1999 - 10:35 AM

Alexandra, I haven't seen it in a long time, but did enjoy it when I saw it about 20 years ago, without thinking it was a great ballet. I think it is one that is cast-dependant, and one of the most powerful nights in the theater was seeing Marakova dance it. But like most ballets which are also operas, I find the opera infinitely more subtle and passionate. Of course I haven't read the original poem, and I suppose Russian literature people would consider the opera a dilution. But if I had to choose I would take the opera any time, which to me means the ballet is somewhat of a failure as a theater piece. (And Manon is about a thousand times better in the opera). I don't think Onegin is as bad as some of Cranko's other pieces, but Croce was reacting (overreacting?) to the unbelievable hype coming from the NYTimes that summer.

#3 Giannina

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Posted 23 April 1999 - 10:47 AM

I've seen "Onegin" once on stage, I have the tape with Augustyn and Allemann, and I've seen Makarova, on tape, in the 2 big pas de deux's (dream scene and the final confrontatiion); thus I know little about the ballet. What I liked most was the lovely choreography for the 5 major roles: Onegin, Tatiana, Olga, Lensky and Gremin. I felt the dancers in those roles had a wonderful opportunity to shine. I find Cranko's choreography repetitive; this proves to be a distraction for me. As for the above mentioned 2 big pas de deux's: there is something upsetting about them for me and I can't put my finger on it; I'm uncomfortable when presented with that choreography and that music. The dream scene is supposed to be eerie, but for me it goes behond that. No one else mentions it so I'll have to assume it's something personal. I therefore give "Onegin" a spooky thumbs-up.

Giannina

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 23 April 1999 - 10:52 AM

A note about the Pushkin poem - it's almost impossible to capture what makes it so beloved of Russians in an English translation. Unlike German, Russian usually does not translate well into English, especially poetry - this is a gross generalization, but in the case of Pushkin useful for us to know - perhaps ballet might be one of the few ways of translating the emotional core of the poem into another language.

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.

#5 Kevin Ng

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Posted 23 April 1999 - 12:00 PM

Alexandra, to answer your question in the last paragraph, I think "Onegin" is somewhere between a grand idea of ballet and the end of civilisation.

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.

#6 Paul W

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Posted 23 April 1999 - 05:35 PM

I like Leigh's point about the difficulty of translating the emotional and literary sense of the Pushkin poem from the Russian. I had not read the poem until I began to seriously read it as part of my overall interest in seeing the ballet at some point. My thoughts parallet Leigh's; it is not possible through translated poem to convey those aspects of Eugene Onegin which make it great literature to Russian readers.
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.

#7 Estelle

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Posted 07 May 1999 - 10:44 AM

This is just a short note to add that "Eugen Onegin" will
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 Posted Image ). Pity there's a train strike
in Marseille now...

#8 dirac

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Posted 08 May 1999 - 02:07 AM

I have not seen the ballet Onegin, but from what I know of the poem and the opera I would say it is not ballet material. It's true that Pushkin's special use of the Russian language does not -- cannot -- come through in translation. His playful ironic wit and lyric intensity do, however. Try the Charles Johnston translation. Unfortunately, ballet is not too good with irony -- not very danceable -- and without seeing the ballet I would imagine that Onegin's ennui and contempt for society translates into dance terms as simple caddishness, and Pushkin's somewhat equivocal attitude to Tatyana's novel-induced romanticism would be missing entirely. There is a perception, I think, that you can make an evening length ballet out of any "classic" no matter how unsuitable for dance. Romeo and Juliet in its various versions tend to work because frustrated love that ends in death is a perfect dance subject. Onegin is also concerned with love and death, but the treatment is such that dance can only simplify and diminish it, and I mean no disrespect to the ballet by that -- only that ballet can't tackle everything.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 08 May 1999 - 07:53 AM

In theory, I agree with you completely -- that it's dangerous to think you can make a ballet out of any classic, and that there are many subtleties in literature that don't translate. I thought this about Onegin, too, until I saw a performance by the Royal Danish Ballet (six years ago, before they fell apart). The dancers and the direction of it made it seem like a different ballet.

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?

Alexandra

#10 dirac

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Posted 08 May 1999 - 11:44 PM

I'm not sure that there's a satisfactory answer to that. My immediate response would be that it's the choreographer's fault, that in a solid piece of work there should be an essential quality that comes through no matter how mediocre the performance, and yet I know that's often not the case even with ballets that are indisputably great ones. I would also amend my previous posting to say that, just because certain subjects are not ideally suited to dance, that doesn't mean that dance shouldn't have a crack at them. I'm thinking specifically of what MacMillan was aiming for with Mayerling. He didn't succeed completely, but until I saw the ballet I'd have said it couldn't be done, and by and large he did it.

#11 Guest_Angela_*

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Posted 30 May 1999 - 02:39 PM

Hi there America: I'm from Stuttgart, and already that should force me to post a comment here, I guess.
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.

#12 Paul W

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Posted 30 May 1999 - 06:16 PM

But a beautifully written and convincing one Angela! You've put another entry on my list of ballets I need to see, particulary since you emphasize the dramatic aspects, which I tend to look for in ballets.

#13 Joseph

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Posted 15 June 1999 - 12:45 AM

ONEGIN is a beautiful ballet with the most gorgeous music I have ever heard in a classical ballet. It gives me chills! As one can tell, it is indeed my favorite ballet and I idolize Cranko and I also idolize Kurt Heinz Stolze who in which arranged the music by Tchaikovsky for the ballet. They originally tried to have the music be the same score as for the opera Onegin, but the government of Russia (or something like that,) vetoed it and said it was not right. So, Stollze went and took all sorts of fragments of Tchaikovsky's "unknown" works and made one beautiful ballet score. He also worked with Cranko on "The Taming of the Shrew." Onegin carries a very good moral and message to it ( in my opinion.) The message is "What goes around, comes around." One will have to see the ballet to understand what I mean.
Sincerely,
Joseph

#14 Paul Parish

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 10:37 PM

It's coming to San Francisco this season -- opening in roughly ten days.

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.

#15 RUKen

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Posted 17 January 2012 - 07:37 AM

Paul Parish's post may have set a new record for the longest interval between posts in a thread!

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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