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Dutch National Ballet - Eugene Onegin


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I was in Amsterdam last week and had a chance to see a performance at the MuziekTheater. The company, now directed by former RB principal Wayne Eagling, premiered the work some two weeks ago. The production was staged by Reid Anderson and Jane Bourne. I know Anderson was a member of the Stuttgart Ballet under Cranko but don't know Bourne. The decor and costumes, which I liked very much, were by Elisabeth Dalton.

I had only seen Onegin once in the middle or late 70's when the Stuttgart came to the Met and remember only Haydee in the sequence with the mirror when she dreams of Onegin and in the climactic third act ppd. I had always thought of this ballet as one of those that illustrated Balanchine's dictum, "there are no mother-in-laws in ballet." So, I was pleasantly surprised by how well and unpretensiously the ballet moves along. Only the third act ballroom sequences for the corp seem unnecessary. But I don't know the poem well enough to know how faithfull Cranko is to his source material.

Don't know if Cranko was a great choreographer - one to rank with Ashton or Balanchine - but he was certainly a very good one. The characters are developed through dance and in the case of Tatiana and Lensky seem to have signature movements. In all of her variations and ppds, Cranko uses the coup de pied devant position for a variety of movements including supporting and unsupporting pirouettes. For Lensky, he uses a variety of turns and poses in fourth position.

The National Ballet doesn't have any widely recognized dancers except Larissa Lezhina who did not dance at this performance. The company did quite well in this classical piece given how much contemporary work they perform (Forsyth, Van Danzig, Andriessen (sp?). The women's pointe work is nice and they generally seem to have good placement. The men could be a little more turned out, I think, but it is hard to judge from just one piece.

The best performances of the evening came from Nathalie Caris (a principal) as Tatiana and Federico Bonelli as Lensky. I was less impressed by Altin Alexandros Kaftira as Onegin. Kaftira was trained in Albania and danced there and with the Greek National Ballet. He had a great deal of trouble with his first solo, couldn't phrase it properly so it appeared to be a series of unconnected steps. He partnered well but doesn't really seem to have found the key to Onegin's character. I didn't understand why Onegin decided to flirt with Olga or why he coldly kills his best friend. But maybe these are the kind of thing no one can convey through dancing - their isn't much mime in piece as I recall.

Caris was excellent showing us Tatiana first as a young girl in love. In Act Two, her confusion as Onegin flirts with Olga is painfully real. During the second act ballroom scene solo, Caris both danced for Onegin hoping he would notice her and then became incresingly frantic as it was clear that he had no interest in her. Caris took what looked like a painful, face down splat during that solo but managed to incorporate that embrassment into her character. Impressive. In Act Three, Caris conveys a mature woman, at peace with her life and secure in her decision to reject Onegin despite her continuing love for him. This act must be an exhausting one for the ballerina with two contrasting ppds - both of considerable length. Caris is small and dark like Marcia Haydee with nice feet, which she uses well. As I was watching. I wondered what Monique Meunier would make of this part - all her passion and womanliness would certainly make for an interested third act.

Bonelli, trained in Turin, was a terrific Lensky. He has good feet, a nice jump, excellent turns and a beautiful fourth position and he used all these assets to convey Lensky's character. He did particularly well in the second act, showing us Lensky's increasing anger as Onegin flirts with Olga and then boiling over so that the challenge to Onegin makes sense. In the next scene before the duek, his solo is one of despair - he seemed to know that this was futile and that there was no hope of a happy result.

All in all, I'm glad I went. It was a pleasure to see a company who rarely makes it over here. And the generous Dutch subsidy for the arts meant that orchestra seats were only $30 as compared to $80+ for NYCB or ABT.

Eagling has programmed an interest season next year with lots of works by Dutch choreographers who we never see in NYC but also Balanchine (Serenade), Robbins and The Nutcracker.

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I didn't understand why Onegin decided to flirt with Olga or why he coldly kills his best friend. But maybe these are the kind of thing no one can convey through dancing - their isn't much mime in piece as I recall.

I saw Onegin at RB twice earlier this year - after the first time I had to get another ticket to see it again, I loved it! There were some excellent programme notes on the story with an essay by Donald Rayfield from University of London, called "Onegin's Morals", which made the duel clearer for me. I hope it's okay to copy a bit of it here.

"In Russia, Peter the Great had ordered duellists to be shot, and the survivors of any duel to be hanged, and duelling remained a crime. But the punishment for the survivors was almost always commuted to a few months' confinement to barracks, and duelling remained for aristocratic males a means of rectifying injustice, establishing ranking order, for some almost a sport. Duelling grew more popular as improved pistols made differences in dexterity, strength and age less important than sheer sang froid. Duels were often formalities: of 322 fought between 1894 and 1912, only 15 had a fatal outcome. But where the insult was mortal and when the duellists' seconds agreed, then the terms of the duel might be such - for instance shooting at five paces apart - that both combatants would be killed.When Lensky challenges Onegin to the duel, Onegin cannot refuse, nor does etiquette allow him merely to fire into the air.

"If the duel turns so vicious in Pushkin's novel, it is because the seconds allow it to be so. Onegin does what he can to annul the duel: he turns up late, with his man-servant Guyot, as a second: an unpardonable insult to his opponent and to the other second. (When Casanova fought a duel in Warsaw, he could not consider inviting his servant to act as a second and asked his opponent to provide one for him.) Thus killing one's friend in a duel - what seems today the action of a psychopath - was in 19th-century Russia a very real tragedy. Pushkin found his gruesome story of Lensky, Olga and Eugene was no fantastic invention when in 1837, with a Nabokovian twist or two, it came true and destroyed its author."

It answers some questions I had but perhaps raises more problems than it solves! How can you convey Russian history and customs like this, as a dancer? Interesting, anyway.:)

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Liebs, your review gives me a very good idea of what the Dutch National Ballet is like at the moment. From what you say, it sounds like the company is international in composition. When they came to New York in the seventies, the dancers were mostly Dutch, with some foreigners. This was still the case in 1988 when I saw them do Swan Lake in Amsterdam. What are the corps and soloist levels like—are there a lot of Dutch names?

Lolly, whom did you see in the RB performances?

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Ari, it does seem more international now. There are a good number of Dutch names but several Italian and some that seem French or British. I also noticed two Asian women in the corps. I didn't buy a full program but from what I could see by looking at it during intermission, there are also several Americans.

Interestingly, there was a booth manned by the "friends of the ballet." In looking at the materials, the benefits to donors (from what I could tell from the Dutch) were similar to those American companies offer. Open reh, parties, lectures, etc.

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I saw the same cast twice - you can see I was impressed! Nathan Coppen was Onegin, Lensky- Johannes Stepanek, Tatiana- Jaimie Tapper and Olga- Marianela Nunez. I think I reviewed it somewhere around here, I remember raving about Johannes...! He was covering for someone with an injury, he hadn't been cast at all and he was just SUPERB! I loved the whole ballet but he was the superstar of the evening for me. Nathan Coppen played the strong but silent thing well but he isn't one of my favourites. Marianela is alway fantastic of course. The ballet gives off an air of faded glamour and times gone by - a bit like A Month in the Country, it appears as if you see everything behind a metaphorical gauze curtain , or with a certain pale light.

RB are bringing Onegin back this summer so if anyone is in London I highly recommend it. As well as seeing Johannes again, I'm looking forward to seeing what Ivan Putrov does with the role.

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Ari, you might be interested in having a look at the Dutch National Ballet's web page at:


(There are two versions: one in Dutch and one in English).

They seldom come to France, but a few months ago they went to Dijon, dancing Ashton's "Cinderella"- I was sorry not to be able to attend it, because seeing Ashton works in France nearly is impossible...

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