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American Ballet Theatre: Onegin 2017

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American Ballet Theatre

Onegin 2017

David H. Koch Theater

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Clinton Luckett, Assistant Artistic Director
Susan Jones, Principal Ballet Mistress
Ballet Masters: Irina Kolpakova,
Carlos Lopez, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Jenny Lee, Director of Marketing
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 24, 2017

(Read More ABT Reviews)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on the Spring Season Ballet Music.)

Conductor: Ormsby Wilkins

Onegin (1967): Choreography by John Cranko, Staged by Reid Anderson and Jane Bourne, Based on the poem by Alexander Pushkin, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Arranged and orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, Set and Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lighting by James F. Ingalls, Staged by Jane Bourne, Performed by David Hallberg as Eugene Onegin, Jeffrey Cirio as Lensky, Onegin’s friend, Kate Lydon as Madame Larina, a widow, Her daughters: Hee Seo as Tatiana and Skylar Brandt as Olga, Nancy Raffa as Their nurse, Thomas Forster as Prince Gremin, a friend of the Larina family, and the Company as Relatives, country folk, and members of St. Petersburg nobility.

”Pushkin's great 19th-century verse-novel, Eugene Onegin, is interpreted with flawless storytelling skill by John Cranko. With a wealth of magical moments, this compelling tale features an unusual twist of double unrequited love - while the high-handed Onegin at first spurns the young, naive Tatiana, she blooms to become a sophisticated St. Petersburg aristocrat who, in turn, rejects his subsequent advances in a final crushing blow.” (ABT Web Notes).

John Cranko’s Onegin, with a ravishing Tchaikovsky score, is supremely satisfying on every level and must be seen again and often. Onegin (David Hallberg), from St. Petersburg, arrives in the garden of Madame Larina’s (Kate Lydon) country house with his friend Lensky (Jeffrey Cirio), to cure his ennui. It’s soon to be Madame Larina’s daughter, Tatiana’s (Hee Seo) birthday celebration, and Tatiana and her friends are preparing party dresses. If they look into a mirror, each will see “her beloved”. This is the start of an old fashioned romantic poem, based on Pushkin’s 1825-1832 oeuvre. It’s a clean, clear, uncluttered plot, and one with poignancy, pathos, and power. Lensky is engaged to Tatiana’s sister, Olga (Skylar Brandt), and Tatiana falls into immediate infatuation with Onegin on sight, in her garden. Tatiana’s nurse (Nancy Raffa) delivers an impassioned letter of confidential and youthful desire, from Tatiana to Onegin (transcribed in the ABT program, for all to understand her eloquence and sincerity).

At the birthday dance, a distant relation, Prince Gremin (Thomas Forster), arrives to pursue courtship with Tatiana, with Madame Larina’s blessing. But, Tatiana sees only Onegin, and Onegin sees only himself. To add spark to his evening, Onegin flirts with Olga, who joyfully matches his dangerous whim, enraging Lensky, and generating a scheduled duel to the death. Lensky is shot, and Onegin disappears for years to sooth his soul. When Onegin returns to St. Petersburg, he finds Tatiana at Prince Gremin’s ball, as Gremin’s regal wife, and Onegin now sees Tatiana in an elegant, sophisticated world, causing him to feel confusion, remorse, and angst. Now the love letter is written by Onegin to Tatiana, who rips it in his presence and dismisses him with fervor; the psychology surrounding that decisive act can be analyzed and obsessed about ad infinitum.

This production remains one of the most poignant and enthralling in the repertory. I look forward to it now, and hope it’s included again very soon. I chose tonight’s cast for the internalized charisma of both David Hallberg and Hee Seo, not natural partners, but two Principals with intense theatricality, palpable and intense. Mr. Hallberg, as Onegin, struts with seething boredom, jealousy at Lensky’s contentment, and envy of Gremin’s happy marriage. His profile is worthy of a painting at the Met Museum, so regal, so proud, so magnetic. But, when the duel ends, Mr. Hallberg is so remorseful, he falls to the ground with his head in his hands. Mr. Hallberg’s dancing is so refined, so sweeping, so theatrical, so tall and poised. Hee Seo, as the tormented Tatiana, is a perfect match, as she bleeds emotionally before our eyes, her stomach drawn in, her shoulders so hunched. Her dream sequence with Onegin was one I wish I could have seen twice, for its profusion of angst and ardor.

Skylar Brandt, as the flirtatious, naïve sister, Olga, who is used and abused by Onegin in his cunning pretend game to make Lensky jealous, and thus to entertain himself out of ennui, made this role her own, with a sense of risk and relish in the attention from two suitors. She morphs from dashing gaiety to her hand in the air and full body collapse after the duel. Jeffrey Cirio, as Lensky, morphs from brooding, vulnerable fiancé to shocked, frantic victim. His shadow comes back, in dance, to haunt Onegin, after their breathless duel. One of the brilliant designs of this ballet is the small number of lead cast, making the relationships all the more showcased. Thomas Forster as Gremin, the Prince, who finds happiness in the end with Tatiana, has little charisma, but a sense of power, wealth, and fidelity. Mr. Forster danced the role with purpose and persuasiveness. Nancy Raffa as the nurse, and Kate Lydon as Madame Larina, Olga and Tatiana’s mother, danced respectively with nurturing warmth and mature sophistication. After all, this ballet takes place in a garden, a forest, a ballroom, and two bedrooms. Drama fills the air.

Santo Loquasto’s sets and costumes are quintessentially mesmerizing. Even the birches in the duel scene are gorgeous. And, that mirror, so tall, to envelop both Tatiana and Onegin in its dreamy reflection. John Cranko’s choreography, set to Tchaikovsky, is dreamlike, in itself, with waltzes, elongated back stretches of the torso, extra-high leg lifts, impassioned embraces and tosses, psychic, soulful rending from the pelvis, and gripping, still friezes. In contrast, there’s a scene for the Corps, with leaping partners crossing the stage left-right, right-left, in party gaiety. When Olga and friends dash in mid-air elevation, the ambiance is exhilarating. Ormsby Wilkins kept the music transporting and theatrical. Kudos to all.

Hee Seo and David Hallberg in "Onegin"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at