Tuesday, January 31, 2012: On Again, Off Again

Tereza Podařilová as Tatiana, Jiří Kodym as Onegin, in the National Theatre Ballet's production of Onegin

On Again, Off Again, Onegin

This Saturday (Feb 4) you have the chance to see a classic tale of on-again, off-again teenage infatuation and romance. The story of an innocent flirtation and the irony of love will be told by The National Theatre Ballet in their production of John Cranko’s Onegin (Oněgin).

Take a look at the story based on Alexander Pushkin’s poetic novel published in 1837, and see if it doesn’t remind you in some ways of your own teenaged triumphs and tragedies in affairs of the heart:

The story opens with the scene-setting discussion involving Madame Larina and her daughters Olga and Tatiana. They’re finishing their party dresses and gossiping about the younger, Tatiana’s exciting birthday party to come. Olga’s fiance Lensky is due to come to the country-house all the way from the glamorous city. Lensky arrives, surprisingly, with a handsome, elegant stranger, his friend Onegin.

Brilliant dancing and passionate acting is required in Onegin

Then the trouble begins.

Young Tatiana immediately falls in love with Onegin; she writes him a wildly romantic letter, but at the party he brushes her off as an unworldly, silly young girl. She’s crushed. In the meantime, the older, wiser Prince Gremin also arrives at the party (and – oh no! — Mom has him in mind as the perfect match for her young, willful daughter).

Then Onegin tries the most dangerous trick in the tales of teenage tragedies: Bored, he flirts with Olga – who’s not only already spoken for by his own friend Lensky, but who is also Tatiana’s older sister. Lensky challenges Onegin to a duel. Can anything good come of this?

Well, yes. One good thing is the choreography for the story, created in 1965 by John Cranko, an internationally-admired dance master whom many Czech dancers still credit as an influence today. (And he encouraged young dancers such as the Czech Republic’s Jiří Kylián, dancing in his famed Stuttgart Ballet, to try choreography.) Cranko first started work on the Onegin project more than 50 years ago, in 1952, using music arranged by German composer Kurt-Heinz Stolze from several of Tchaikovsky’s pieces of music. It’s still a classic today.

In Cranko’s choreography, Tatiana is a plum role for a ballerina, because she must not only exhibit brilliant dance technique in passionate pas de deux (duet) scenes, she must be able to convey deep and varied emotions, first as the young, impressionable girl and later as a wiser, mature woman who has survived the lessons of life.

That’s because although Onegin disappears after the duel, he turns up suddenly again after many years, requiring Tatiana to make some painful choices. You can find out what she’s finally learned — on Saturday.

Onegin will be performed on The National Theatre stage this Saturday only, with shows scheduled again in early March and early May. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Top: Pavel Hejný; bottom, Diana Zehetner

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