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Flash Review 3, 12-4: "Onegin" Joins the Royal
Newest Stars Shine in Cranko Classic

By Roanne Dods
Copyright 2001 Roanne Dods

LONDON -- Hanging over the production of John Cranko's "Onegin" at the Royal Opera House, London on Thursday was an emblem. "E.O. Quand je n'ai pas honneur, il n'existe pas d'honneur." My rough understanding of this is to the effect that the moment I lose my honor, honor itself is gone. To understand the deep passions, actions and myth requires an empathy for the the 18th Century Russian sense of honour -- the immense social pressure to behave and respond in situations according to strict etiquette: for women, to restrain themselves to a publicly accountable modesty; for men to police that modesty as guardians of reputation. Cranko's choreography recreates such vivid characters though, that it is easy to find contemporary meaning in Pushkin's tale.

Ross Stretton, as the Royal Ballet's new artistic director, has made an inspired decision to bring this ballet into the Royal Ballet's rep for the first time. It is a strong statement of undoing previous RB errors and bringing great choreography to the Royal Opera House. Cranko's choreographic version of this story is magnificent -- rich in characterization, clear and dramatic in narrative and structure, magical in its design and spacing.

The night I saw the production the principal women's roles were taken by the Royal Ballet's new recruits and newest bright young stars: Spanish-trained Tamara Rojo as Tatiana and Bucharest born Alina Cojocaru as Olga. Onegin went to Adam Cooper, returned from his role in Adventures in Motion Pictures' version of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," and guest artist, Ethan Stiefel as the unfortunate Lensky. Each of these dancers embody their roles convincingly from the start. Rojo's Tatiana, lying entralled in her book in the opening scene, is serious and independent; Cojocaru as the younger Olga plays and tries to distract Tatiana and is a joy to watch -- her naivety and exuberance shining through her light, confident movement. Her enthusiasm is infectious. Even Cooper, whose Onegin is weighted, pensive and bored, comes to life in their flirtatious duet in Act II. Onegin seemed genuinely attracted to Olga, motivated by more complex reasons than his jaded desire to provoke his friend, Lensky.

Cooper plays a good baddie. Here though, he is not only the caddish, thoughtless character. His danger is more complicated. His introductory duet with Rojo, while effecting indifference to her attention, is full of heavy ennui, but his carelessness is of a man without direction, motivation. It is a hard, almost sad duet to watch and Cooper brings this richness to his character. You can feel his depression and inattentiveness to himself and to others. It lifts only when he realises the awful error of his decisions and his loss, when he sees the maturer, sophisticated Tatiana, and when honour is truly gone.

It is in the duet with Rojo in her bedroom, when her imagination takes over and she dreams of their union that Cooper does not quite let his character leave sufficiently to allow Tatiana's imagination to take over. The tempestous and vigorous love scene is held back by the reluctance of Onegin to fall in love with her and this makes it difficult for Rojo to release the full glory of the choreography -- something she does with enormous drama in the final scene, when left alone with the responsibility of her decision to reject Onegin.

The most moving scene was performed by American Ballet Theatre's Ethan Stiefel. Lensky has come to the spot where the duel is to take place. This is a decent, warm man forced by his aimless friend to challenge him to a duel that neither want to, but must, see through. In the autumnal grey he dances the pain and confusion of his circumstances. Stiefel is a beautiful dancer and he dances his solo perfectly, with passion, grace and precision. I will never forget that solo, as I will treasure having seen this ballet.

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