Friday, June 8, 2012

Onegin at the American Ballet Theater

(photo courtesy of the American Ballet Theater)

Choreography - John Cranko
Conductor - Ormsby Wilkins

Eugene Onegin - Marcelo Gomes
Lensky - Jared Matthews
Madame Larina - Susan Jaffe
Tatiana - Diana Vishneva
Olga - Natalia Osipova
Nurse - Susan Jones
Prince Gremin - Gennadi Saveliev

I've never seen a ballet by John Cranko and so last night I bought a ticket to Onegin at the American Ballet Theater. The cast included Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva who were so radiant in Giselle last year. I was eager to seem them again in a new work.

Onegin is based on the poem by Alexander Pushkin which Tchaikovsky adapted into an opera. For his ballet, Cranko didn't use any of Tchaikovsky's opera music. Instead, Cranko cribbed bits and pieces from the composer's other scores. This was the main weakness of the production: the music did not have the dramatic sweep of Swan Lake or Romeo and Juliet. Instead it sounded like "classic lite" background muzak which didn't do much to propel the plot or project the characters' emotions.

As for the choreography, there were a few memorable moments: Onegin stepping through the mirror during Tatiana's dream sequence, and prostrating himself when he begs her forgiveness in the last scene. The miming was clear but otherwise the choreography was rather generic. I was hoping to get a sense of Cranko's style but didn't come away with a clear impression other than his love (and endless repetition) of grand gestures to make the same statement over and over again.

The pairing of Gomes and Vishneva though was worth the price of the ticket. Gomes is a superb actor and the sort of danseur noble that makes his prima ballerina shine even brighter. Their chemistry was palpable and a pleasure to watch.

Osipova was a bit of a scene stealer but she's a minor character here. Mathews and Saveliev were superb foils for Gomes - they projected an insouciance and noblesse oblige that contrasted with Gomes's dark and disruptive presence.

Onegin will always be popular because we can all identify with either Tatiana, Onegin, or both. I was surprised by the resonance of the story which seemed so silly on paper. The full house and deafening applause during curtain calls attest to the accessibility of this ballet and ensure its permanence in the repertory of the ABT.

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