BWW Review: American Ballet Theatre Offers a New Production of John Cranko's EUGENE ONEGIN, Courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada
John Cranko's Eugene Onegin is often referred to as a "story ballet for grown-ups" since it is devoid of the fantasy birds and other magical creatures that populate so much of the classical ballet canon. The dancers portray real people with real emotions as Cranko brings to life Alexander Pushkin's iconic verse novel. Cranko's version of the tale has new plot twists that some critics have found dismaying while others have applauded them. I fall into the latter category. On the evening of June 21st 2017 at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, I was especially moved at the end of the ballet when the now-married heroine, Tatiana, succeeds in fending off the advances of Onegin, who had spurned her when she was a young girl. Onegin flees in defeat although in the original poem, Tatiana is the one who leaves. Kudos to Cranko for what I see a more female-empowering scenario.
Onegin had its World Premiere by the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965, and ABT premiered a production of Onegin in 2001. The 2017 ABT production, with a run of eight performances, is a new one courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada supervised by Reid Anderson and staged by Jane Bourne, with lush sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto and evocative lighting by James F. Ingalls that effectively take the audience to the world of Imperial Russia.
The music by Tchaikovsky, arranged and orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, is a compilation of selections of the composer's work that most often works to advance the tension and drama of the story line. Full disclosure: Before seeing this production, I had in my mind the glorious music by Tchaikovsky for the opera about Onegin for which the composer wrote the libretto. I must not be the only one, since I read in Allan Ullrich's 2016 review of the San Francisco Ballet production of Eugene Onegin the following passage: "Always lurking in the background is the great Tchaikovsky opera, 'Eugene Onegin'." Ulrich was referring to the story line, but for me it's the opera's music that is "always lurking in the background".
The various lead casts during the 2017 run are all stellar, but I was delighted to see the quintessential male classical ballet dancer David Hallberg performing the lead role of Onegin without a hint of the ankle injury that had sidelined him for over two years after his historic decision to accept an invitation in 2011 to become the first American principal dancer with the Bolshoi in Russia. Roslyn Sulcas entitled her January 2017 article in The New York Times "David Hallberg Returns to American Ballet Theater" and quoted him as saying that the Bolshoi remains a "second home to him" and that he is looking forward to getting back to it "when the time comes". For now, though, welcome back to our shores!
Hee Seo as Tatiana, Skylar Brandt as Olga, and Jeffrey Cirio as Lensky all danced with more than the requisite technique and passion. I was especially taken with Cranko's choreography and the dancers' prowess in the Act I pas de deux in which Tatiana dreams of Onegin. A vision of him appears in her mirror, recalling a game played earlier by Tatiana and her friends that was intended to reveal the equivalent of photo bombs of future lovers in the reflection of each girl's face. The effect of having Onegin step out of the mirror was a masterful moment of narration without words.
At Tatiana's birthday party in Act II and again in a scene in the palace of Prince Gremin in St. Petersburg in Act III, the corps de ballet displayed fine form in a series of character dances based on Russian folk dance. In other sequences, the ladies executed flawless pointe work including fluttering sixth position bourees both forward and backward, while the men proved once again that ABT has a superb roster of male dancers.
The ABT production runs through Saturday, June 24th. If you're in town, don't miss the chance to see this vivid portrayal of unrequited love that involves a duel to the death and some of the best ballet dancing on the planet.
Photo by Gene Schiavone