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Onegin (as a ballet) summer 2002

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#31 sylvia


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Posted 31 January 2002 - 08:20 PM

Well, I like going to the stage door after performances and chatting with the dancers and sometimes they can tell you a bit about what they'll be doing.

2002-3 is the MacMillan season - have you heard some of the ballets to be performed? - Mayerling, Manon, Prince of the Pagodas. Since Adam's danced all these main roles before and RB's so short on male principals (I really can't think of more than a couple dancers at the RB who could dance the Crown Prince in Mayerling) I'm hopeful he'll guest again.

#32 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 04 May 2002 - 07:27 PM

I'm bumping this thread back up as we should be getting a rash of Onegins at ABT soon, and the current issue of Dance Now contains two interesting articles on Onegin, one by Debra Craine on the performances at the Royal Ballet and one by Luke Jennings that was a comparison between Pushkin's Onegin and Cranko's (for those who followed the "Interpreting Ballet" thread, the "gay man uses women as mouthpiece and sublimation for his own emotions" surfaces here; Jennings ascribes these motivations to Cranko and cites Julie Kavanaugh on Ashton as backup.)

I've seen Onegin a few times - once done by Stuttgart and I have to admit it never made the sort of impression on me it did on others; I found it to be two rather brutal pas de deux with a ballet flimsily attached. But also, because the main parts carry the ballet I also realize that a great cast or great coaching can change the ballet utterly.

Did anyone read the articles in Dance Now? Do you have any comment on it, or recent or pending productions of the ballet?

#33 Guest_kb_*

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 05:45 AM

I'm sorry but I feel that Onegin is a truly dreadful ballet, a Mills and Boon abstraction of a great work of literature. Cranko had none of Ashton's genius for abstracting a literary masterpiece to it's bare essence to distill the passion and poetry into choreography that was an evocation of the prose yet still stood on its own as a powerful work of art in its own right.

The central pas de deux around which most criticism (good and bad) revolve point to the paucity of the ballet as a choreographic force to be reckoned with. And the pas de deux themselves are bathetic, overblown and melodramatic in the worst sense. They confuse sentiment with emotion, overacting with passion, they are the choreographic equivalent of the very worst ham actor.

Onegin has been championed to the hilt on ballet.co.uk and this is a problem. It prohibits debate about the merits or lack thereof of the work itself.

Adam Cooper is a dancer of plank like elasticity he brings nothing but poor partnering, inflexible dancing and a characterisation which Robert Helpmann as the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang would have rejected as being overly hammy.

The structure of the ballet is atrocious, the bathos of the scrim, with Onegin's credo "When I am without honour, honour no longer exists" which becomes the mantle Tatiana herself inherits is crass and overstates the drama. Drama that Cranko was unable to merely paint with choreographic tools. The duel scene is so cack handed and ineffectual as to be laughable, and true dramatic thrust is dashed on the rocks of sentiment and melodrama.

A dreadful awful ballet, only distancing the Royal from its heritage as a great company even more. The rot continues and at an advanced pace.

The most recent worrying sign is that Deirdre Chapman, a former soloist with SFB and now a "moder" dancer with Rambert. Is to join the Royal as a principal. Although congratulated to the hilt on the parochial ballet.co, a further worrying sign that the Royal is becoming ever more dependent on the ABT model as a national ballet of anywhere, and Stretton's vision for the Royal is one of a cod-modern repertory company of homogenous blandness.

#34 Jane Simpson

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 06:11 AM

Originally posted by kb

The most recent worrying sign is that Deirdre Chapman, a former soloist with SFB and now a "moder" dancer with Rambert. Is to join the Royal as a principal. Although congratulated to the hilt on the parochial ballet.co, ...

What? As I write, there is absolutely no comment about Chapman's move on ballet.co. The posting about her is the press release from Rambert, the company she is leaving.

#35 Guest_kb_*

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 06:19 AM

Okay, maybe I overstated the congratulations element in the white heat of anger, however, she was congratulated and any reasoned debate postings page would not have merely stated the press release, but opened it up as a topic for discussion along the lines of the identity of the RB as a whole.

It's not as if there aren't a myriad of deserving principal material women amongst the company members already.

#36 Alexandra


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Posted 20 July 2002 - 07:35 AM

Hello, KB -- welcome to our pages :) Your comments on Onegin are quite welcome, but so are Lolly's and Sylvia's enthusiasm and their comments on how much they enjoyed the performances. I hope we have room for both.

A request, please. Could we leave what's going on on other web sites out of the discussion? I started to edit out your comments about ballet.co, because I don't want attacks or negative comments about any other web site posted here, but then saw that Jane had made a clarifying remark and noted your apology and so left them.

I don't think it's quite accurate to say that ballet.co champions Onegin. There have been discussions -- pro and con -- about the ballet on that site, as there have been here.

We've had debates here on the identity of the Royal Ballet question in the past, and there's no reason not to have another one :) I'll post that as another thread.

#37 cargill


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Posted 20 July 2002 - 09:16 AM

The most recent issue of Dance Now (David Leonard's wonderful quarterly) had a very intresting article on Onegin and some of the problems that ballet had in transferring the text. For me, it is another of those very long ballets (like Romeo and Juliet and Manon) with an even longer opera struggling to get out. But underneath the swaths of padding, there can be some very fine performances, but often in spite of the choreography, not because of it. I just did an interview with Guillaume Graffin, who is a very fine Onegin with ABT, and he talked a lot about the problems he had in getting a grasp of Onegin just through the choreography, and trying to make him the three-dimentional character of the poem. His point was that Onegin is choregraphed as a snobbish villan, but he had to have something more, or Titania wouldn't have fallen in love with him. He saw him as sort of a fallen angel, whom life had disappointed, but he felt that was very hard to put across in the ballet.

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 11:45 AM

[sentence deleted by Alexandra] That there are wonderful dancers within the company is not the issue, the issue however is whether the material is worthy of them.

Onegin is an important ballet to the money men and the board of ballet companies as it is a three acter which is bankable, and modern. As such the company can pay lip service to the notion of presenting a modern work, the Cranko connection particularly within the RB means that the board can also refute allegations of ignoring the compan's heritage.

The consensus among the greatest creative minds of 20th century ballet is that the three acter is out of time with modernism, however, the three acter brings in the moolah. So Macmillan who made a number of bankable three acters holds a far more venerated position within the ballet world (or would appear to do so) than Ashton, who was by far a greater creative genius. (One can conjecture that if Balanchine had not had Kirstein behind him, who was in complete agreement as to the irrelevance of the three act ballet, but rather had his money men insisted on bankable three acters for opera house crowds, then how would his career have progressed?).

But back to Onegin, as Mary Cargill so rightly pointed out, the genius of Onegin as a poetic work strains to be released from the ballet, and in a great artist's hands it almost succeeds, but the work is a failure. It is crass, hysterically emotional and bathetic. Yes Rojo, Galeazzi, Cojocaru, Nunez, Tewesley etc etc are wonderul dancers and the fact that one responds emotively is a tribute to them as dancers, but the work itself does not merit such accolades.

#39 Alexandra


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Posted 20 July 2002 - 12:00 PM

There's no question that three-act ballets are popular, and sometimes, it seems, that they're popular only because they're "full evening" works or "story ballets." I'd argue, though, that there's nothing inherent in the number of acts that's the problem. Ashton created several three-act ballets. (And hasn't Modernism run its course by now?)

I found a Sunday piece by the NY Times' John Martin, by the way, written after the Danes had brought Ashton's Romeo and Juliet to New York in 1956, that "50 years from now, when the three-act form is again dominant, we will look to this ballet" as the one that pointed the way to the return to the three-act form.

I'd prefer the Ashton version to any save its polar opposite, the Lavrovsky, which, I think, is as great in its very different way. And I think the Ashton Romeo was very much of this century in its depth, and the way that it got to the root of the story and translated it into a dance impulse -- unlike Cranko's Onegin, although I think one must always remember, to be fair, that Cranko was working with a very modest company and died very young. What he would have accomplished had he had the Royal Ballet at his disposal, what he would have made in his 50s and 60s, we'll never know.

Like Mary, I've also seen performances of "Onegin" that convince one it's a good ballet, and some performances that expose its weaknesses heartlessly. I think there could be an interesting aesthetic debate over "what is the work," in the sense of, how much does performance count? "Dying Swan," danced by me, would not look like much of a ballet. But danced by Pavlova, I'm convinced it was high art.

(Note to KB, and I'll delete this when I've heard from you, please check your email :) )

#40 Lolly


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Posted 20 July 2002 - 12:36 PM

KB, which performance did you see? It must be one of those "you either love it or you hate it" ballets.

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 04:01 PM

The first Tatiana I ever saw was Lynn Seymour, she was phenomenal, and as such I thought the ballet so too. Then I saw several other ballerinas and realised that it was the brilliance of Seymour who carried the ballet and papered over the cracks and made it shine.

Onegin is very popular with ballerinas of a certain age, (Makarova chose to dance it when she was allowed back into Russia to perform at the Kirov when she was 48) and here I think lies the problem. It's almost like a comeback tour piece for Tina Turner, a role which a no-longer platinum technique can cope with, yet allows a great artist to play up to the glamour of their legend, the laurels of their histrionic ability.

Seymour had no choice but to dance it with ENB, she didn't want to dance anymore, however financial expediencies made it necessary for her to dance again, so as such her dancing had an integrity that a ballerina on a final tour often lacks.

However, one thing that struck me on viewing it several times with several very good ballerinas is how bad the pas de deux actually are. How laughable the conventions Cranko employed are, how crass even. The mirror pas de deux is cringeworthy, I feel. The moment he steps through is sheer adolescent fantasy, which is not a criticism, the burning sexuality and desire of adolescence are very powerful subjects, but it requires infinite subtlety and respect of these strong emotions to carry off the piece of art dealing with them (Fournier's Le Grand Meulnes with the section on Le Fete Etrange is a case where this is handled brilliantly) moreover the pas de deux are very badly handled, or rather constructed, overblown, obvious and naff. Where grandiose statement overtakes movement which is truthful or subtle.

The bit with the mirror at the start where Tatiana sees Onegin reflected, Seymour played as if she had been given the most tremendous electric shock, she literally rocked across the stage, it was a moment she invested with such force and truth and integrity, she had see a man she loved instantly but could never have, it made the ballet. Moreover it gave great depth to the dancer dancing Onegin, it invested him with the mysticism and charisma he must have if he is not to come off as a totally selfish, murderous bastard. However, this moment in the hands of every other ballerina I have seen dance the role has made no impact, no awareness that this moment is the brutal total awakening of adolescent sexuality and yearning, the moment Tatiana is aware of the world of adult passion which exists outside the confines of her house, her family her books her comfort zone.

Lolly, I have to say as a ballet I really think it's bad, really, really stinky.

#42 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 07:05 PM

I'm dredging this thread up again, as a place to discuss the ballet's merits, especially as we have more Onegins in the season at the Royal Ballet.

#43 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 21 July 2002 - 08:06 AM

I think some of it has to do with what one looks for in a ballet. Do you look at a ballet as being a vehicle for great dancing or great dancing as being a support for a ballet?

Onegin isn't a ballet I know extremely well (I've only seen it a few times) but my opinion in closer to KB's. As I wrote on the other thread, it's two rather brutal pas de deux with a ballet flimsily draped around it. I've not yet seen the production that makes a case for it, but for me, that would take dancers having to not just perform the material, but transcend it.

#44 katharine kanter

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Posted 23 July 2002 - 04:38 AM

What KB has written here about Cranko's choreography is, IMO, very perceptive. The point you make, KB, about how Lynn Seymour reacted at the opening of the mirror scene, astonished me - that would indeed, change the course of the play.

"Cringeworthy" as KB has so aptly said, is Cranko's pas de deux in a nutshell. I also find them quite frightening, and dangerous.

When I could still dance, I never liked lifted myself, at all, and having since found out about Bournonville, that prejudice has of course been strengthened. Those Cranko or Macmillan-style lifts, which are now rife throughout the ballet world, the man and the woman climbing all over each other, she dragged upside down along the floor, and, horror of horrors, that awful flip in the air only to land SPLAT on the man's shoulder. ARGH !

How ever does Cranko get away with it ? He gets away with it, precisely as you have said, because there are people like Lynn Seymour or Alina Cojocaru dancing Tatiana.

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Posted 23 July 2002 - 05:57 AM

As for your criticisms of Onegin KB, I can't add much more to what Lolly and Alexandra have already said. I've said many times how much I love this ballet and I think the choreography is exquisite. Personally it's hard for me to comprehend that even great dancers could convince someone that a truely awful ballet, in the manner you described, is any good. In spite of it's flaws it's clearly touched many people. I'm a bit mystified as to how you made such an about-turn after your first performances. [/B][/QUOTE]

Sylvia, I didn't say I thought it was a great ballet with Seymour, I said she convinced me that it was a great ballet through the force of her interpretation.
However, I was only 13 when I saw it with Seymour, and here I think lies the crux. As an adolescent one's tastes and opinions are unsophisticated and respond to overblown emotion and sentiment, qualities which Onegin is overladen (or perhaps overburdened with) qualities such as bathos are mistaken for true pathos, the frantic scrabbling of Cranko's pas de deux are not seen as overwrought but filled with meaning and import. I was a junior at the RBS when I saw this and perhaps as well my childish mind which was full of the magic of ballet and the burgeoning thought of a career in ballet responded to this too. (It's as Sibley said when she saw Fonteyn for the first time, she didn't get the point - she compared it to listening to Mozart when you've just learned the scales, you want the wild drama of Salieri, you don't appreciate true creative genius).

If one thinks of the final pas de deux where Tatiana literally drags Onegin behind her on his knees as she laboriously steps forward, as the music swells (and what a bad score it is too) it has all the dramatic force and truth of the closing scenes of a particularly overwrought episode of Dynasty - yes, it is dramatic, yes it is forceful, yes it is powerful, but it doesn't exactly make it good, good choreography or good drama.

My volte face is not a sudden and unexplainable occurrence, it comes from having passed into adulthood, (I'm now 28) and having gained a wider knowledge of choreography, dance and drama. If one looks at the Nocturne pas de deux from Ashton's The Dream, one sees love rendered into movement with all the skill, subtlety and passion of genius (I know that the love of The Dream is very different from that expressed in the finale of Onegin, but as Judith Mackrell says of Ashton "Ashton never strained after love, sex or passion but these qualities are implicit in ever step", with Cranko these are not implicit but explicit, indeed the audience is smashed over the head with them)

[edited by alexandra] Crankos work as Leigh said is a couple of brutal pas de deux spruced up with zero characterisation of minor roles and a token prescence of the corps doing not much at the beginning of act 3 to justify it as being a three act ballet. (Katharine, I don't blame the corps for looking out of sorts, if I had had to wait around in a dressing room till 10 pm to perform five minutes of not very much interest, I'd be put out too) Moreover let's not forget that under Ashton the corps of the RB was considered to be the best in the world.

The RB is no longer a world class company, however it has a world class reputation and due to it's position, a world class roster of stars, but the stars (save for two) are not products of the organisation. And Onegin is a star vehicle, however the defining characteristic of star vehicles is not the work itself, the work very rarely has little or no merit, but the vehicle allows the star to shine as much or as little as they like, to stand out regardless of the action around them. But a ballet company is the sum of its parts, a great ballet company is reflected by its corps (as Makarove says of the Kingdom of the Shades scene in Bayadere, it is here that a ballet company comes into its own, where its greatness can be perceived, where every corps member is a principal.)

Onegin was the hit of the Sretton's first term, because it ws the first large scale production where the company seemed to be a great company, but it isn't, it's the first production where the great principals were given such onus that they seemed to be the company, the large scale classical productions mounted Don Q, Bayadere received luke warm to poor reviews, because they were poor, one could see how far from greatness as a great classical company the RB had fallen.

And finally Seymour, well dancers like her come along once in a generation, (and I saw her at the age of 47, when she was onstage with dancers young enough to be her children, in some cases even her grand children (technically), yes she was slightly overweight, her technique was shakey in places etc etc but it didn't matter she blew everyone else off the stage, she was and is a genius, in her hands Onegin's crassness and stupidity became special because she had the gift of genius to transmogify the mundane into the spiritual. Cojocaru definitely has the budding of this gift, her potential for genius of Seymours calibre is definitely the same. One hopes that the RB will treat her rather better than they did Seymour, when they realise that their new bankable money maker is human too.

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