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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Onegin at the ABT

In the 1960's, there was a new wave of choreographers who consciously rebelled against the Balanchine ideals of abstract ballet. These choreographers made lavish 3-act story ballets with highly melodramatic plots. John Cranko and Kenneth MacMillan were maybe the most well-known of these choreographers, and their ballets became a sensation.

Today, the ballets haven't aged very well. The repetitiveness of the choreography (swoony lift after swoony lift after swoony lift), the derivative nature of the stories (Cranko's Onegin is predictably, not as deep and rich of a work as Tchaikovsky's opera on which the ballet is based), and the piecemeal scores (Onegin's score is taken from various Tchaikovsky music pieces) make the ballets heavily reliant on the charisma of the performers. Great dancers with strong personalities can make a ballet like Onegin work, but I can also see how with lesser dancers it can be one very boring evening.

Fortunately, last night the ABT put forth a stellar cast for their revival of Cranko's Onegin. Diana Vishneva was pitch-perfect as Tatiana, embodying both the shy, naive girl of the first two acts and the mature but conflicted woman of the final act. Part of what makes Vishneva such a compelling performer is her ability to convey a hidden passion and intensity beneath a calm surface. Her Giselle is the same way -- pretty and shy, until she finds out she has been betrayed, and BAM! She loses it in a way that no other Giselle can match. Vishneva's greatest moment was in the final pas de deux with Onegin. She really made you feel her character's conflicting emotions -- both the residual passion for and anger towards Onegin, plus the dignity a woman of her station had to maintain.

Marcelo Gomes was also absolutely mesmerizing as Onegin, the selfish, cold anti-hero. His dark good looks make him a natural Byronic character, someone you could imagine women losing their heads over. But Gomes' greatest skill is his partnering. When a female dives into his arms, Marcelo will catch her and make it look beautiful. If a woman has to be lifted like a crane above his head, Marcelo will lift her as if she's paper and again, make it look beautiful. Gomes and Vishneva's emotional intensity in the two main pas de deux (the sleepwalking pas de deux and the final act pas de deux) made the choreography look better than it actually was. Diana and Marcelo also have that elusive chemistry. It's all a stage illusion, of course, but the two of them just seem like soulmates on stage. Both are dark-haired and intense, and even though the ballet's storyline is actually quite unromantic, the frenzied pas de deux of the last act burned up the stage.

Natalia Osipova as Olga was some luxury casting. Although the role isn't a big one, Osipova is a natural scene-stealer, and her perky personality contrasted wonderfully with Vishneva's introverted, intense Tatiana. Jared Matthews was very fine as Lensky. He again was a good foil for Gomes' Onegin -- Matthews was simple, uncomplicated, good-natured. His solo before the duel was very well-danced.

The sets and costumes were very pretty and lavish. The corps de ballet looked fine, especially in the Act One finale where they all make a diagonal across the stage the men helping the women grande jete over and over again. This same cast repeats on Thursday, and I really think it's the cast to catch.

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