Finely crafted, marvellous theatre: John Cranko’s Onegin in Stuttgart

Opera House, Stuttgart
July 20, 2018

David Mead

Reid Anderson admits that John Cranko’s Ongein is one of his favourite ballets, so its inclusion in the week of celebration that marks the long-standing director’s retirement is hugely appropriate. It’s also a wonderfully told story, with characters deeply drawn. Perhaps most importantly, Cranko gets to the heart of every dramatic moment. It’s a great ballet, full of great dance but more than that, it’s great theatre.

Jason Reilly is a supremely arrogant, calculating Onegin, a man full of himself; a man you love to hate. Although he falls into his duel with Lensky by accident, which you feel he really did want to call off, one senses that, when it comes to Tatiana and Olga, he knows exactly what he is doing. When he rips up Tatiana’s letter to him, it’s without any sense that he might just be responsible for what has happened and how she feels. She does, of course, eventually get her own back.

Hyo-Jung Kang is superb as the bookish, sensitive, rather quiet girl that is Tatiana. There is something about her big eyes. They sort of let you into the sense of wonder she experiences, initially not quite understanding her feelings for the mysterious man that has walked into her life, and that will change it forever. As he infatuation for him slowly grows, sits as though she grows, her dance vertical as if she wants to fly. In contrast, he responds with a series of long brooding lunges.

Elisa Badenes as Olga and David Moore as Lensky in OneginPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Elisa Badenes as Olga and David Moore as Lensky in Onegin
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

The pair really draw you into the bedroom pas de deux in Act I. It is their only real love scene, although the Onegin who steps from the mirror is, of course, the Onegin of her dreams and imagination, not the real man; as she is to find out. Her body trembling with emotions, she throws herself at him and he responds in kind.

Kang’s transformation into a mature lady of society, now married to Roman Novitzky’s handsome Princess Gremin is fully believable.

I’ve never seen the conclusion as tragic. Onegin deserves everything he gets, and Tatiana gives it to him in spades, reversing roles, ripping up his letter and placing the shreds in his hands, just as he did to her. Her had it coming.

Could there be a better Olga than Elisa Badenes? Happy, carefree, extrovert and totally in love with her fiancée Lensky, played by the handsome David Moore. True, she too lets herself be swayed by Onegin, but it’s as if she is just playing with him as he is with her. For Lensky, it was like a red rag to a bull. Moore gave us a powder keg of pent up anger, which sure enough finally exploded.

Cranko’s characterisations go beyond the leads. At the ball in particular there are any number of small moments, many lightly humorous. The is some elegant choreography for the ensemble in the ballroom too, and some fine folk-dance influence work in the garden in Act I.

There were impressive sights off stage too. It’s common practice in Stuttgart for dancers, often still in costume, to sign programmes, calendars, books and so on during intervals. It’s a lesson in audience relations that British companies could learn a lot from. On this evening it was Anderson holding the pen, willing chatting to anyone and everyone as he signed away. Getting near the table was another matter, such was the enormous throng.

Good news for ballet lovers is that Cranko’s Onegin has been filmed, and it’s hoped that the DVD will be available by the end of 2018. His Romeo and Juliet is also ‘in the can’ and goes on cinema release in Germany this week. There’s no news yet of a UK release date, although, again, it is hoped a DVD will be available soon.