‘Onegin’ in Dazzling Return Trip

By Paul Hertelendy
artssf.com, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance
Week of May 1-8, 2016
Vol. 18, No. 66

The brilliant evening-length “Onegin” is back at the S.F. Ballet, chockful of elevated drama, dancing, and the elegant old-Russian milieu. You can nod toward Pushkin for the plot, and to Tchaikovsky for the (unfamiliar) music, but ultimately it comes down to the genius of the choreography by the late John Cranko created in the 1960s.

The tale of the surfeited, Weltmuede Eugene Onegin is well known. Bored with life, he keeps reaching for the forbidden fruit and loses both his girl (twice) and his best friend Lensky. But Cranko went a few steps beyond: There are no fillers extraneous to the plot; there’s a show-stopping series of jetees by eight ladies in a line from stage right to stage left, as if becoming airborne; and, also in act one, in the night the restless Tatiana has her dreamboat Onegin emerge from a full-length mirror, a transformed vision dancing with greater joy and passion than he ever does in his real life.

Much like Onegin, the heroine Tatiana has a dual personality shifting from ingénue to mature married woman, also very much like Juliet in that other great full-length 20th-century opus “Romeo and Juliet.” You know that she will spurn the returning (and suddenly fascinated) Onegin at the end. But the way their long dance is played out, with her nearly seduced by the intruder, is a masterpiece of characterization.

As expected on opening night, the tall Brazilian actor-dancer Vitor Luiz and petite Maria Kochetkova were back in their roles of 3-4 years ago, with Luiz a particularly crass, arrogant aristocrat portraying the decadence of the privileged class. Two male leads who had already had their retirement parties two weeks earlier, Gennadi Nedvigin (Lensky) and Joan Boada (Gremin, Tatiana’s eventual husband), returned with distinction. Luiz and Nedvigin are both gifted actors, playing out the nuances of these complex characters.

And as Olga, Lensky’s girlfriend, Laura Strongin projected such a bubbly personality, and weightless movement, you felt she was ready to step in as Tatiana any day now.

The lavish Santo Loquasto production from the National Ballet of Canada is stunning and efficient, from the palatial ballrooms to the forests of birches, with lickety-split scene changes through the three acts, helped by a scrim curtain allowing three depths of action.

Martin West’s orchestra was 1st class.

The music is all Tchaikovsky, but none of it from his opera “Eugene Onegin,” much of it smaller pieces orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze. It rarely sounds like real Tchaikovsky—but when did you ever hear a composer successfully aping any dead master’s style in orchestration??? Not this listener, ever.

While Nedvigin and Boada get good roles and good looks this week, fans will not encounter the other treasured SFB retiree, Pascal Molat. Adieu, Pascal!

Casts rotate. The second cast the next day, with Luke Ingam and Yuan Yuan Tan in the leads, gave up nothing in quality.

Cranko’s ballet “Onegin,” music of Tchaikovsky, by S.F. Ballet. Closes with season’s end May 8. For info: (415) 865-2000 or go online.

©Paul Hertelendy 2016
Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.

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