Both Tchaikovsky’s opera, Eugene Onegin, and the ballet Onegin, choreographed by John Cranko in 1965, are based upon Pushkin’s verse-novel. The composer, however, never actually wrote the latter, which was born when Kurt-Heinz Stolze utilised music from his various piano concertos and operas, waltzes, mazurkas and polonaises. The resulting creation is sometimes criticised for being emotionally shallow and formulaic in its dramatic, and by extension balletic, structure. By the same token, however, it remains an excellent forum for showing off the talents of exceptional dancers, and the Royal Ballet certainly has no shortage of these.
The story witnesses the young Tatiana’s infatuation with a guest from St Petersburg, Onegin, when he graces her village. When he does not reciprocate her love and starts flirting with her sister Olga, a duel ensues in which Onegin kills Olga’s betrothed, Lensky.
Each pas de deux is designed to delineate clearly the relationship between the two dancers, and here the five outstanding principals ensure that no two feel the same. The first between Steven McRae’s Lensky and Akane Takada’s Olga speaks entirely of warmth and trust, as the betrothed couple reveal a wondrous fluidity in their movement. The subsequent pas de deux between Alina Cojocaru’s Tatiana and Jason Reilly’s Onegin (the latter replacing an injured Johan Kobborg) proves equally effective, this time at revealing infatuation on her part, but only bored, self-obsession on his.
This couple’s next duet, however, constitutes an imaginary sequence in which he is hers, and so exudes an emotional connection that was lacking earlier. As befitting the context, the routine includes complex movements that might only seem achievable in dreams, and yet Reilly and Cojocaru effortlessly make them a reality. In Act Two Bennet Gartside proves effective as the fifth principal, Prince Gremin, while the dancing takes on ever more imaginative dimensions as Cojocaru and Takada resort to flurries of passionate pleading in their desire to halt the approaching duel.
The Act Three pas de deux between Onegin and Tatiana is a masterpiece as each line of music makes us think we are moving further and further towards that moment when they will finally come together as one. Here, Cojocaru and Reilly’s performances prove so emotive and convincing that even when we know that the conclusion will be less happy, we are left feeling right until the very end that there may just be a chance that this moment will come.
Until 8 February (13 performances) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DD. Casts vary over the run. For further details and tickets (£5-93) click here.
Photo: Captivating though they are, there is more to Onegin than just pas de deuxs, © Alastair Muir.