Boston BalletBoston Ballet Onegin

chor. by John Cranko

The Wang Center for the Performing Arts, Boston, MA

November 1, 2002
By S.E. Arnold

The emotional contours drawn by the themes of love and passion shape Onegin, choreographed by John Cranko after the eponymous verse novel abandoned by Pushkin in 1831, into a Tristan und Isolde interruptus.

Although, aided by the enchantment of her Shakespearian namesake, Cranko only partly explains or shows the source of Tatiana's wistfulness. For example, she shuns the play of family and friends to loose herself in books. For Onegin's behavior, on the other hand, Cranko offers no explanation at all. One must guess. Given the time period of the ballet, circa 1830s, and, alas, evidence from the novel, however, one recognizes Onegin as playing the self-absorbed, misanthropic, and world-weary Byronic hero. In short, he behaves like an ass, and becomes, however unwillingly, the Bottom in Tatiana's love dominated dreaminess. Yet, unlike Shakespeare's mid summer's lovers, the enchantment suffered by Tatiana and Onegin is self-inflicted. Locked in worlds or ideas created out of the literature they read, both Onegin and Tatiana willfully avoid public realities. In their flight from life, each seeks the solace, the resolution of the dissonances of life in some sort of oblivion. As the plot unfolds, Boston Ballet Onegin first for Tatiana, then for Onegin, love offers that oblivion. In the end, however, it becomes painfully clear that their desire, the love that each visits upon the other finally depends on the impossibility of its fulfillment. At curtain close, Cranko after Pushkin interrupts the satisfaction Tatiana and Onegin seek in love's oblivion – popularly known as orgasm and psychologically identified as the death-wish. Tatiana remains the virginal wife to the General she married between Acts II & III, and Onegin remains the enchanted Bottom. No adultery. No double suicide. Happy ending.

Yet, celebrating the triumph of respectability (aristocratic, bourgeois, and otherwise) may be premature. After all, Pushkin abandoned rather than concluded Eugene Onegin. Like the ambiguity of Wagner's famous 'Tristan' chord, meaning that it may resolve or progress in any direction, Pushkin's suspension of the stories of Onegin and Tatiana has a similar consequence. On the other hand, where doubt and speculation inspire define the future non-adventures of the dour Onegin, there was no doubting or resistance to the power of Onegin as performed by the Boston Ballet.

Although set to music by Tchaikovsky, (which is thankfully free of the bombast and emotional hyperbole present in other works) Onegin looks like Beethoven. Clear, unhurried, formally balanced, and structured by recurring themes and repeated phrases, the choreography speaks to the neo-classicism still influential in the time of Onegin. Moreover, the décor's grand sweeps of laced drapery, the harmony and abundance of early 19th century costume finery, and the structural importance of folk dances and balls combine to fashion an outward looking yet restrained world informed by decorum and 'taste.' Against this untroubled and steady social rhythm, the conflicted, oppressed, and paradoxical feelings of Tatiana and Onegin sometimes flicker sometimes flame into rhapsodic melodies. Bright, vivid, and daring melodic duets, pas de deux shaped by aerobatic lifts, trusting falls, and sudden, occasionally explosive, changes from solicitous tenderness to button-popping, bodice-ripping passion.

Boston Ballet Onegin

Because each of the three, out of the four, casts one was privileged to see performed with equal verve and authenticity one will flee from, rather than agonize over choosing, which one stood out. Whether it was Gael Lambiotte (cast one), Yury Yanowsky (cast two), or Simon Ball (cast three) that danced Onegin, such was the intensity each gave in Act III that their performances passed beyond the merely convincing and become believably autobiographical. They were Onegin. And, the ladies, Larissa Ponomarenko, Adrianna Suarez, and Sabine Chaland, offered transcendent performances a of willowy-yet-tightly-wound, dreamy-yet-rational, fiery-yet-ice-cold, still young but now mature Tatiana. Yet, the powerful performances given to Onegin and Tatiana was of a piece with those given by Pollyana Riberio, Romi Beppu, and Sarah Lamb to Olga, by Alexander Ritter and Jared Redick's to the "filled with Kantian truth" poet Lensky, and the glorious chore of the Boston Ballet.


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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