There is only a week in which to see the dark and beautiful ballet “Onegin” but it is an unmissable production. With choreography by John Cranko and a dark, dramatic musical score by Tchaikovsky, this is a ballet strong on plot-line: dark, brooding and atmospheric.
Onegin is a restless selfish man who doesn’t seem to know what he wants from life, toying with sisters Tatiana and Olga and killing his best friend Lensky in a duel. He shouldn’t come across as a complete monster because he genuinely regrets his faults and actions deeply; more a self-destructive whirlwind who sweeps up anyone in his path.
This title role is a challenging one for the principal dancer, portraying a man who is both reckless and wildly impulsive, and yet full of pain and anguish as the ballet progresses.
Tchaikovsky’s dark and wonderful score in “‘Onegin” is starting to set the dramatic intensity of his later work, “The Queen of Spades”, also inspired by Pushkin, which is far grimmer and devastatingly destructive. It is evident in the lead protagonist himself, who has a similar recklessness to Hermann in “The Queen of Spades”, and in the intense heart-stabbing orchestral score, led by conductors István Silló and Kálmán Szennai.
Set designer Thomas Mika will provide the scenery which ranges from opulent to desolate, reflecting the inner feelings of the protagonists. Particularly harsh are the moments when young Tatiana, rejected by Onegin, is despairing in the snow in a bare wintry landscape.
Onegin aimlessly wanders the world after rejecting the lovely Tatiana and then returns at a ball years later where Tatiana is now princess. He wants her back; in human nature we are always wanting what we can’t have. When it is there for the taking, there is no challenge.
Tchaikovsky’s love for the character of Tatiana is clear throughout the ballet; she is perhaps the best developed character, full of childish longing, love and sadness, becoming ever more elegant and refined despite the anguish she suffers due to Onegin’s careless behaviour.
Onegin cannot understand why he can’t repeat the past, forgetting and being forgiven for the mistakes he made and winning back the heart he was once handed by Tatiana. This is a ballet full of human failings, lost love and tortured anguish.
Except Onegin’s moment for happiness has long slipped through his fingers. He can no more possess Tatiana than he can reshape the moon.