Magazine article The Spectator

Simply Superb

Magazine article The Spectator

Simply Superb

Article excerpt

If you want to appreciate the artistic genius of John Cranko, one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, do not miss any of the Royal Ballet's performances of Onegin, for I have seldom seen this ballet danced with such compelling drive and technical perfection. Created in 1965, and based on Pushkin's poem, Cranko's Onegin is in my view the quintessential 20th-century narrative ballet, for the drama comes straight from the dancing, which is never superfluously ornamental.

Regardless of the literary source's historical settings, Cranko's Onegin is above all a timeless tragedy of youth, conceived at a point in history when the young were questioning and rebelling against the role and position in society they had long been told to hold. Eugene Onegin, therefore, is more than the bored snob who causes havoc because of his cynicism, or the typically Romantic negative hero. In Cranko's ballet he is the archetypal youngster who believes and pretends to be more mature than he really is by resorting to a conveniently defensive arrogance. The steps and the movements with which he introduces himself to the public leave no doubt about the fragility of his inner persona. Simple and undeniably introvert, they show the real nature of the young man which none of the other protagonists is able to detect.

Similarly, there is more to the ballet version of Tatiana than just a passionate heroine who tragically mixes the fiction of her beloved novels with everyday reality. Cranko's Tatiana is in her way a gentle but determined rebel, who does not think twice before challenging the etiquette and the mores of her times, only to plunge into tragedy with the typical ardour of every teenager. Her dream duet with Onegin in the bedroom clearly goes beyond the boundaries of the infatuation that an innocent girl is supposed to have. And it is on this wild dream/nightmare that the whole drama hinges, more or less unconsciously.

Next to them Olga and Lenski might look less elaborate at first and more in line with the stereotypical ballet representation of a happy couple. Yet a brief but deep analysis of their movement vocabulary reveals more. Olga is not just a silly smiling goose, incapable of understanding when it is better to stop. …

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