04 April 2007

Onegin – Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, Saturday 31st March 2007

Thanks to a combination of unreliable friends and London Undergrounds usual early Saturday evening service (i.e piss poor), I arrived literally just as the curtain was going up on this and in need of one gin (or indeed more) myself. So I was really too frazzled to take in much of the first 20 minutes or so of this with any great clarity. Add to the fact that I always find it difficult to tell the story of Onegin from that of Chekov’s Three Sisters for some reason, and you have a recipe for confusion! It seems an odd choice for a ballet – its all about complex emotions and these are not really best served by ballet, I find. “Broad brush” stories are usually served better. What is disappointing about the ballet version of Onegin is that it uses none of the famous opera score, so you’re more than two removes from the story before you start. This production also suffers in that it is a faithful reproduction – in terms of scenery and costumes – of the original Royal Ballet 1972 production, so a lot of it is inexpressibly dreary to look at. I did think at one point that it might have been a dreaded Julia Trevlyan Oman production, so mired was it in dreary browns, limes, oranges and creams. But apparently not. And I really don’t get on with John Cranko’s choreography, finding it rather stilted and angular and certainly not fan-dabby-dozy. But I stand corrected at some points – the wonderful ballroom choreography in act 3 was lovely to watch as patterns that were simple but somehow extremely intricate began to unfold. And there were lovely touches of humour here as well – for instance, one male ball guest was obviously being given the “run around” by his partner, and one unfortunate man had obviously ended up escorting twin sisters and couldn’t tell which was which.

There is some lovely “stage magic” in the “Letter Scene”, where Alina Cojocaru (ideally cast to play a girl on the cusp of womanhood but not perhaps so convincing as a stately princess “some years later” as her small frame makes her look like an eternal child) advances towards a cut out in the rear wall which represents a full length mirror – an identically dressed dancer appears in the gloom on the other side and they dance as girl and reflection. Nice idea for Onegin to then suddenly step from the far side of the mirror through the frame and into the bedroom – just like a nightmare. Seeing that earlier in Act 1, Tatiana has been playing the ancient Russian game of “mirror gazing”, in which young girls stare into a mirror and see the face of their future husband reflected behind theirs, this makes a nice point – do we ever see a person (or indeed ourselves) as they really are, or just the image they choose to portray? And what happens if the image we see does not reflect the real person? Discuss, using both sides of the paper if necessary.

The emotional heart of this ballet is the Act 3 duet between Onegin and Tatiana – and by god did Cojucaro and Johan Kohlberg (an icy, powerful Onegin) go for it at this point. It was raw emotion expressed in dance – yes, I know that I just contradicted what I said above. His BBness overhead a woman in the street afterwards saying “They MUST be At It to be able to dance together like that” – obviously not knowing that Mr. Kohlberg does indeed regularly slip the comely Miss Cojucaro a length of hot Danish sausage. Well, they must have been doing something right, because the ovation at the end lasted for a good five minutes – long enough for his BBness and I to gather our coats and bags and reach the ground floor of the Opera House, where the cold light of reality awaited us. There was no furlined Troika waiting to drive us home through the bloodstained snow, unfortunately.

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