Onegin. The Australian Ballet

12 May 2012, Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House

John Cranko, choreographer of Onegin, had the ability—a rare one—to distill a complex story so that it could be told in dance without losing its inherent dramatic logic. The current production by the Australian Ballet, a revival of a work that was first danced by the company in 1976, simply speeds along and it is all but impossible not to be caught up in the unfolding drama.

At the performance I saw, the stand-out dancers by a long way were Lana Jones as Olga, sister of Tatiana, and Ty King-Wall, friend of Onegin and fiancé of Olga. Apart from their ability to bring their characters to life, they danced so well together that it was possible to see really clearly why Cranko was such an outstanding choreographer. Every nuance of movement was defined—the sweep and curve of each lift through the air, for example, or the surprising and quite exquisite way in which Cranko occasionally sets a playful contrast of direction into a sequence that we expect will go another way. I found it quite thrilling to see classical choreography being so beautifully exposed for everything that makes ballet such a breathtaking art form.

In the leading roles of Tatiana and Onegin, Rachel Rawlins and Rudy Hawkes couldn’t quite match the strength and panache of Jones and King-Wall. Rawlins has all the technique and all the maturity to make the role of Tatiana her own, and to follow in the footsteps of some of the Australian Ballet’s stellar interpreters of this role (and there have been several over the years). But on this occasion she seemed not to make a strong enough contrast between the young Tatiana, scorned by Onegin for her naiveté, and the mature and elegant princess she has become as the ballet draws to a close. As a result Onegin’s feeling that he made a mistake in initially scorning her is not able to be fully explored and a good deal of the dramatic intent of their last meeting is lost.

The corps de ballet was a delight throughout, dancing with the grace and charm that befitted the roles they had guests at balls and parties. I wished however, that the older guests at Tatiana’s birthday celebration had not gone so over the top with being elderly. I have never been a fan of the pantomime-style of dancing that is so often given to characters that are supposed to be of a certain age. It never seems to serve a useful purpose, especially in a ballet like Onegin. It simply becomes an unnecessary parody of one class of people. It does, however, seem to be required in ballet, although I’m not sure why.

This revival of a twentieth-century classic, with its refurbished costumes and its sets borrowed from Sweden and Denmark (design by Jurgen Rose) is a welcome addition to the Australian Ballet’s 50th anniversary program.

Michelle Potter, 14 May 2012

6 thoughts on “Onegin. The Australian Ballet

  1. Oh, what joy to be able to welcome the company back to Melbourne last night in a thrilling performance of “Onegin”, especially after the poorly thought out “Let’s Dance” programme. I found all thoughts of previous incarnations swept aside by the passionate, committed performances given by the main quartet of dancers and supported by a masterfully mature reading of Prince Gremin from Brett Simon. Normally, by final curtain, I find Tatiana’s dilemma far more moving than Onegin’s but Adam Bull, in not taking the haughty, saturnine route, managed to enlist my sympathy from the start by portraying the character with an immature kind of superiority so that it was a double tragedy all the way through, rather than the sudden awakening with Onegin that normally happens after the end of the duel. Bull’s gradual realisation of the woman Tatiana has blossomed into in the ballroom scene was extremely effective. Amber Scott was outstanding in her moment by moment reactions. Her expressive face carried all her character’s emotions in a deeply affecting performance. I can’t recall ever experiencing so deeply the feeling of a profound awakening into conjugal love that Scott was able to suggest in the ballroom pas de deux with Simon. So that when Onegin returns for the finale and touches her we get the immediate realisation that she now fully understands the depth of her attraction to him. This was a performance partnership that one longs for [such partnerships seem not to have been terribly well cultivated lately – perhaps it is the nature of recent repertoire]. Kevin Jackson played the distraught elements of the Lensky character just as effectively and was quite overpowering in the climax of the party scene. Leanne Stojmenov, playing Olga, was perhaps a bit too close to Valencienne, but certainly played her party scene climax with a terrifyng reality of what her flirting had wrought. I must mention what pleasure it was to see the fondly remembered Joanne Michel and Therese Power back on stage with the company in finely tuned performances. Really we need this repertoire to show us how our dancers are maturing as artists and I eagerly await the other 3 casts for Melbourne. And I can’t wait to see how Kevin Jackson handles Onegin. I think it quite rare for a dancer to play both Onegin and Lensky in the single season.

  2. Thank you for these thoughts and I look forward to more from you on other casts. I absolutely agree that we need such works in the repertoire for the ongoing development of the dancers as classical artists. I am frequently reminded of conversations over the years with Valrene Tweedie who used to lament the fact that our dancers so rarely had the opportunity to dance the major roles in the classics more than once or twice during their careers, and that dancers today have few opportunities to dance a variety of roles – corps, soloist, principal – in works like Swan Lake, Giselle etc, etc over the course of their dancing lives. And your comments on Kevin Jackson having an opportunity to dance Onegin and Lensky reminded me of Paul de Masson’s comments on what a thrill and challenge it was to dance Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio in one season of R & J.

  3. Tonight, in Melbourne, we were able to see the Rawlins/Hawkes/Jones/King-Wall cast. I agree totally with Michelle in her feelings about the Lana Jones and Ty King-Wall partnership. So well matched physically and so expressively danced, with a real feel in the Act 1 pas de deux of a warm, luxuriant, carefree, summer atmosphere. And Jones was, for me, far more likely to have been Tatiana’s sister, with a less boisterous, impetuous take on the character than that of Leanne Stojmenov, especially in the party scene. I couldn’t fault Rachel Rawlins in her dancing or her characterisation. Her party solo was especially expressive, but I am afraid that it all went for very little for me as I found Rudy Hawkes to be a total cipher. His dancing and [generally] his partnering were impeccable but I couldn’t detect a skerrick of inspiration in his characterisation. I notice Michelle was silent on his performance. Perhaps that is the missing piece to explain why, ultimately she was slightly disatisfied with Rachel Rawlins. For this ballet to work at it’s maximum emotional level, all 4 of the central quartet need to be firing on all cylinders both dance wise and characterisation wise.

  4. “Onegin” was a sheer delight. I had a vocational student next to me who had never seen this Cranko gem. The passion and classic beauty overwhelmed her. I was immensely pleased that she had a chance to experience the beauty and depth required from all the artists to perform such a classic work with excellence. I am sure that Valrene Tweedie would be delighted that the artists and those on their journey were given this experience, along with the audience, whose appreciation was most evident. Daniel Gaudiello’s performance in the role of Lensky really moved me – Saturday matinee/ 23rd June.

  5. Michelle, I have to comment on Paul de Masson. I shed a tear anytime I hear the music from R&J these days, as Paul is dancing in my mind. He was most generous with help both artistically and technically to many young aspiring dancers. It would take some-one exceptional and rare to surpass his Mercutio.

  6. The Kevin Jackson/Miwako Kubota casting made me slightly apprehensive as the Olga/Lensky pairing was announced as corps de ballet members Jessica Fyfe and Timothy Harford. And I noticed Harford, on opening night, dancing in the corps with what looked like a very unattractive Franz Liszt hair do. In the event all misgivings evaporated very quickly. He was strong in his dancing [very elegant carriage] and characterisation and seemed to be pouring his heart out in the duel solo [perhaps losing some of the refined, pliant plastique of this solo]. Fyfe’s was a beautifully played character with a freshness and lightness that perfectly matched Kubota’s childlike and coltish Tatiana. Miwako was quite heartbreaking in her first 2 acts – she seemed so vulnerable. She conveyed the ballroom transformation more by poise and elegance than any sense of womanly maturity but then was quite transformed in the final scene showing us she was fully alive to Onegin’s physical allure. Kevin Jackson was superb in conveying the many aspects of Onegin’s character. His first solo indicated clearly that he had his own dreams and Tatiana’s world was not part of them. His ecstatic dancing in the bedroom pas de deux really did convey the idea that he was a projection of Tatiana’s dreams and not the man we had just met in scene 1. The sense of his having aged was clear in the ballroom and his regret and sorrow in the final scene was very convincing. In fact the sense of physical and emotional abasement when he kneels before Tatiana and passes his arms around and down her body was spine-tingling. This quartet of dances made for another effective, moving performance.

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