John Cranko’s Onegin, based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse Evgeni Onegin premièred at Paris Opera Ballet in April 2009, and this was the third time this work was set on Opera Garnier’s stage. It was the second time that Evan McKie (from Stuttgart Ballet, where Onegin was created) stepped in here as a last minute substitute for an injured dancer.

Ludmila Pagliero in Onegin © Julien Benhamou
Ludmila Pagliero in Onegin
© Julien Benhamou

First love and last love, disillusion, betrayal, melodrama, duels. Onegin has many aspects of a classic love story and, if not staged properly, there is danger of falling into cliché. But with two magnificent dancers – who can make the characters real people that breathe and bleed with their souls and synchronize themselves sharing the same feeling – this work will melt an audience’s hearts with its delicate depiction of the human spirit.

This run of Onegin at the Paris Opera Ballet was meant to be a special one, as this night’s Tatiana, Isabelle Ciaravola, will be retiring from the company at the end of this month. It was this role that made her étoile in 2009. Indeed, there is no other ballet that shows Ciaravola’s excellent acting qualities and dramatic transformation more vividly, and her Greta Garbo-looking features fit perfectly in this epic drama.

Despite only a short rehearsal period, the partnership between Ciaravola and McKie was breathtaking. Without doubt the best Onegin dancer of his generation, McKie understands the spirit of the ballet extremely well and knows how to gain trust from his partners. He dazzles the vulnerable Tatiana into a magical ride at the mirror pas de deux in the first act. His polished, sophisticated, polite but somewhat arrogant attitude puts fire to the shy bookish girl. McKie and Ciaravola are perfectly suited in their physiques: long lean lines, gorgeous feet and star-quality glamour reminiscent of classic Hollywood movies. They throw themselves into risk-taking high-speed lifts and turns with euphoria. Ciaravola, manipulated into the arms of McKie, expresses such sweet bliss and shimmering rapture of a 16-year-old girl, that we almost forget that she is going to retire at the end of this month.

Isabelle Ciaravola and Evan McKie © Julien Benhamou
Isabelle Ciaravola and Evan McKie
© Julien Benhamou

The transformation of the two main characters is the main key in this work and that of Ciaravola as Tatiana was eye-opening. A princess of high society and embodiment of chic, Tatiana is happily married until Onegin enters her life again. The disillusioned Onegin, heavily tormented by his futile memories of old lovers, sees his only hope within her. The last pas de deux alone has such an errand of emotions, its equivalent to a whole one-night ballet. Torn between her love for her husband and the bittersweet memories of her first love, Tatiana’s emotions flicker, and Ciaravola expresses every detail of her hesitation. Onegin’s almost pathetic pleas set fire to her soul, and she falls absent-mindedly back into his arms. Ciaravola’s beautifully arched feet peeping out from her dress embody her revived flame. They are entirely lost into themselves, and after Tatiana orders Onegin to leave her forever, her confusion and tears show that she will forever regret this decision. We feel her pain so much.

Charline Giezendanner © Julien Benhamou
Charline Giezendanner
© Julien Benhamou

The ill-fated poet Lenski was marvelously played by Mathias Heymann, also nominated étoile by this role. He is an embodiment of the innocence that Onegin has lost, and the idealism that leads him into his grave. His solo before the duel was tragic, and his arabesques were piercingly stunning. His fiancée, the airhead Olga, is charmingly played by Charline Giezendanner, and Karl Paquette, who will be alternating asOnegin, showed tenderness as gentle loving husband, Prince Gremin.

Many ballet companies have acquired Onegin in their repertoire, but so far Paris Opera Ballet is very successful in their interpretation. It is sure that the whole ensemble will grow more glorious by the end of this run in March, embodying the glamour of Russian aristocratic society.

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