Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker brings Tatyana to life through Russian writer and romanticist Alexander Pushkin and his timeless novel Eugene Onegin. Promoted as one of Barbican’s biggest dance shows this season, one might think Tatyana would exemplify all the bells and whistles of a large-scale production. And it does, but without an understanding of Eugene Onegin’s characters and motivations, you might find yourself in for a confusing ride.
Colker describes the show as a loosely based third instalment in her ‘desire’ series, starting with Knot in 2005 and Cruel in 2008. Tatyana completes the trilogy by centering around the four main characters (Tatyana, Onegin, Olga and Lensky), and ultimately on Tatyana’s search for love and life.
The adaptation of a literary Onegin to a more visceral, movement-based version is interesting — passion, adultery and betrayal generally make for riveting dance sequences. However, it’s the additional layers Colker has added, such as multiple dancers of different ages and gender playing the same character, that muddles the storyline.
If you watch the show purely for its dance value, you will no doubt be thrilled by its creative execution. The first half is a colourful array of playful, and at times acrobatic, sequences featuring women in bright greens and pinks and men wearing black top hats and canes. A tree resembling a Scandinavian piece of art sits centre stage, acting as a place to hide, a branch to swing from and finally a platform to fight on. The music transitions from classical greats including Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky to Northern Brazilian twang that sounds like a cross between rock and bossa nova — the mix match of audio transcends to the visual, emoting flirtation and vigour.
The second half portrays a more human side of Onegin, and thus is darker and more intimate in its arrangements and set-up. Laser beams are used to divide the women from the men and a translucent curtain acts as a sheen between the sensuous Onegin and Tatyana and the rest of the cast. The choreography is beautiful, and seems to be a style where Colker shines brightest.
The adaptation of Onegin is audacious, though maybe too bold in its undertaking. While it certainly can’t be said Tatyana doesn’t work, it equally can’t be said it holds up to the merits it seems to be striving for. Perhaps it can be summed up by comparing the vastly different tones of the first and second half to the vastly different styles of dance and music used throughout. It is at times vibrantly fantastic, clearly derived from a skilled choreographer, but at other times, leaves the audience feeling disconnected from the characters and unsure of the show’s overall themes and intentions.
Either way, you can’t knock Colker for trying. Like Pushkin’s rhythmic writing scheme, Colker pushes and pulls the characters in a twisting tale of lust and revenge. We’ll let you be the judge.
Tatyana is showing at the Barbican until this Saturday 9 February. Showtimes are at 7.45pm, Saturday at 3pm. Tickets are £16-£30.