Dramatic narrative ballets seem to gain popularity with the Dutch ballet audience. After the recent successes of La Dame aux camélias and Mata Hari in the previous seasons, The Dutch National Ballet continues on the theme by adding John Cranko’s Onegin to its repertoire. This evening was of varying emotional intensity, but there were some truly touching and memorable moments.

Jozef Varga (Onegin) and Anna Tsygankova (Tatiana) © Marc Haegeman
Jozef Varga (Onegin) and Anna Tsygankova (Tatiana)
© Marc Haegeman

Onegin is based on Pushkin’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of the dreamy village girl Tatiana who falls in love with Onegin, an aristocratic visitor from St Petersburg. They meet through Lensky, Onegin's friend and the fiance of her sister Olga. Tatiana is fascinated by Onegin’s appearance, he is different from the men in the village. She writes him a love letter, but he doesn’t answer her love and tears her love letter in front of her eyes. Tatiana is heartbroken throughout the whole evening, while Onegin flirts with Olga out of boredom. Lensky doesn't take this well and demands a duel in which he gets shot by Onegin. Years later Onegin returns to the village and sees the charming woman Tatiana has become. He wants to see her but Tatiana is married to the prince and realises Onegin’s love comes to late. She tears his letter in front of his eyes and asks him to leave her alone for good.

John Cranko’s Onegin premiered in 1965 in Stuttgart and up to this day it is one of the most popular and succesful narrative ballets of the 20th century. The production feels classic and a bit conservative at first, with the typical classic stage sets and costumes, a village set just like Giselle’s and odd corps the ballet dances. However, in the solos and pas des deux the choreography is more expressive. One of the main highlights is the scene in Tatiana’s bedroom, in which reality and dreams alternate each other. Tatiana looks in the mirror and sees Onegin there, who steps out of the mirror into the room. The two start to dance passionately, and Tatiana completely surrenders to him and almost throws herself into his arms. Her body language is very expressive, Onegin throws her in his arms and over his shoulders in acrobatic lifts and she is seemingly weightless while he leads her across the stage. A pas de deux like this demands not only great dancing and acting skills but also a deep trust and understanding between partners, which experienced dancers like Anna Tsygankova and Jozef Varga undoubtedly have.

Anna Tsygankova (Tatiana) and Jozef Varga (Onegin) © Marc Haegeman
Anna Tsygankova (Tatiana) and Jozef Varga (Onegin)
© Marc Haegeman
The role of Tatiana is an interesting and unique one in classical ballet. Tatiana develops herself from a dreamy and naive girl into an elegant young woman. Although the change is more abrupt rather than slowly developing (between the second and third act we jump a few years ahead in time), it is still special and uncommon in most other ballets where the main characters live happily ever after or die of a broken heart. As a dancer with many different faces Anna Tsygankova is the perfect fit for this role. She’s already proven herself a charming princess in nearly all the big classical ballets and a strong and seductive woman in recent creations, so to see the contrast between the two in one evening is new and interesting. As the Young Tatiana she once again proves herself an expressive dancer, credibly showing the strong passion of a young girl’s first love and the defeat after rejection. As the grown up woman she is elegant, sophisticated and a bit mysterious in a way that is unique to her stage persona.

The performances of Olga and Lensky, danced by Qian Liu and Remi Wörtmeyer also deserve to be mentioned. Remi Wörtmeyer has a very strong stage personality and is at his best when portraying a young, energetic and funny character. However he is also a very emotional dancer, and in the role of Lensky he displayed both perfectly. Qian Liu, who was promoted to principal just a few months ago, has already proven herself an able and refined ballerina and as Olga she shows that she is becoming more and more charismatic as well. It was a lovely partnership.

It is Tatiana who anchors the narrative and the success of the ballet heavily relies on the performance of the  soloists. It is a few pas de deux and solos that have the most emotional impact. The emotional intensity wasn’t always kept on the same level throughout the whole ballet and particularly in the corps the ballet sections there was a lack of virtuosity here and there. Onegin performed by The Dutch National Ballet was not a tearjerker, but nevertheless there were some wonderful moment to enjoy.

***11