stuttgart – eugene onegin

A beautiful dream Tatiana’s dreaming…

onegin cover

There’s a wondrous feeling one gets, stepping into a theatre for a ballet and hearing the orchestra tune up. Quite literally, the air hums with anticipation. The sound fills the blood, sings.

I understand that this is the (or one of the) seminal work by John Cranko, performed by Stuttgart Ballet. When you think about how he was born in the 1900s and this came about late in the last century, and how many of the long-enduring grand masterpieces are Petipa’s from a long way back, you kind of get a sense of perspective, i.e. how awesome this is.

What a masterful work this is, how beautifully and carefully crafted it is. Not a single piece of music is wasted; everything is trimmed perfectly and fits together so well that it feels perfectly natural. Nothing is jarring; you hear a piece of music and you see the dance and you go, “Aha! This is exactly what the music is trying to say!” It reminds me of that saying — Dance is music made visible.

For one, characters and their relationships are given time to develop, and given deft scenes and actions that build up the story. Here is Olga, looking so long into the mirror that she doesn’t quite notice when Lenski is almost upon her, until he peeks into the mirror — and if you wonder why, you can see later that at the ball, she is the belle and enjoys the attention lavished on her by Onegin, persisting in leaping into his arms and letting him draw her away from Lenski’s jealous grasp, Onegin twirling her away from Lenski as one might toy with a cat, with Olga as the bait. Where she and Lenski had had a passionate, lively pas de deux that was so cheery — where they had danced with the other youngsters as if they were the model couple — their dance ended on a melancholic, slow note, both in music and in motion, as if foreshadowing a much less happy end for the couple.

Memorable, fascinating choreography. A special mention for the group dancers, who were first seen as wildly enthusiastic youths bounding around, holding hands, leaping across the stage in rows, in and out through the curtains with endless energy and in perfect synchrony, as the music soared. In the waltz, the ladies were lifted up to jump , legs thrown in front as if sitting down; at the party, they were flirting and laughing and dancing behind a curtain as Onegin wandered outside it, trapped by himself. And in all these scenes, the choreography made it clear what role the group dancers were playing: bright youths; ladies at a ball who, in a powerful gesture, curtseyed with their arms and heads bowed, graceful and submissive.

Tatiana and Onegin, needless to say, danced wonderfully. Great, greatly passionate scenes in the bedroom dream-dance, which scenes were later mockingly mirrored with much more angst in the last pas de deux; Tatiana’s being pulled, swooning, into Onegin’s embrace later morphed into being dragged by him, Tatiana deeply longing and yet struggling against her emotions.

I won’t dwell too long on Onegin; I think you can read, elsewhere, better reviews about how he leads young Tatiana on, engaging with her only because he is bored, and then discarding her after a few steps, then dancing with her perfunctorily, then flirting with her — again, only because he has nothing better to do and he might as well while away the time, and look!affections of a young girl are pleasing to him. It’s amazing how this can be conveyed through dance, and it’s done very well — not just with the smirk on Onegin’s face, but also with his body language. That sounds a simple and obvious point, but it’s wonderful to watch.

Nor say more on Tatiana, who was brilliant — girlish and deeply in love at the start; grieving and conflicted, but resolute, at the end. When the curtain fell at the end of the ballet, it appeared that she was still so overcome by emotion that Onegin had to calm her down. Or it was all part of the act. Whatever it was, they inspired a long, well-deserved standing ovation.

I found Lenski’s dancing sharp and very clear, and Olga’s very striking — fragile, light — and I enjoyed how time was devoted to developing their characters and letting them dance, so that it was clear that the first, real, tragedy really lay with Olga and proud Lenski. Much of the front third of the ballet really belonged to them.

I was fortunate enough to catch the following cast, to accomplished musicians from the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra.

Main Cast (Watched):
Tatiana – Alicia Amatriain
Onegin – Friedemann Vogel
Olga – Angelina Zuccarini
Lenski – Daniel Camargo
Gremin – Damiano Pettenella

Music performed by:
Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra

Now for random comments:

I’ll say that the scene in Tatiana’s bedroom, with the mirror which is a doorway, was quite ingenious, when someone on the other side pretended to be Tatiana’s reflection. That’s not easy. Though (please excuse facetious comment) I was suddenly reminded of Twilight when the tall, dark-haired, extremely pale Onegin stepped through the mirror.

I didn’t mention the set above. I really enjoyed the use of the veils with stitching to convey lacy curtains, and trees. Sometimes, the set really helps make the show work.

Also, admired the arrangement, the direction. The clever use of the fallen dark gauze curtain that separated Onegin from everyone else, such that he realised, in a dark, dark moment, what corner he had driven himself into.

There’s much kissing in this piece — I was rather surprised because I’ve not actually seen such before on stage so openly, but it makes sense for the level at which emotions are running for this piece. I think that for local performances, I’ve not seen that much, really. Generally, people hug — or, as in what I’ve seen of DonQ, flick a fan open (a most comic moment). The children are in the audience, after all. It’s quite conservative, and I don’t mind either the conservative interpretation or otherwise. I must say that it could also be my perception that has coloured my memory. Previously, in Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo leapt off Juliet’s bed shirtless, I rather thought it was because it was a hot tropical night — it never occurred to me there might be more (leastways, this was in the 2011 version) until I saw the 2014 version and noticed it was Juliet’s bedroom, and contemplated that there might be other meanings. I’ll stick to the hot tropical night, though. It makes perfect sense.


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