January 21, 2013 5:49 pm

Onegin, Royal Opera House, London

The character of Tatiana is at the heart of John Cranko’s ballet, and Alina Cojocaru is one of the great interpreters of the role
Alina Cojocaru and Jason Reilly perform Onegin The Royal Ballet©Bill Cooper

Alina Cojocaru and Jason Reilly perform 'Onegin'

Though the ballet might, more realistically, be called Tatiana John Cranko acknowledged his dramatic source and entitled it Onegin. But as we know from every performance, the narrative concerns a provincial girl’s awakening to love, to sorrow, to a suitable – indeed, advantageous – marriage, and with it a choice between the intoxications of passion and the lasting power of shared affection. (The third act duet as Gremin and Tatiana affirm their feelings was magnificently done on Saturday night by Alina Cojocaru and the faultless Bennet Gartside and was sealed, as it were, by the final meeting of their hands. It must be understood as crucial to the narrative.)

Cranko made this ballet for Marcia Haydee, his lustrous ballerina in Stuttgart, and for Ray Barra, his splendid first dancer, and its theme of emotion defeated yet defined was close to his heart. Onegin has inspired prodigious ballerina performances in Haydee’s wake – I remember Makarova’s transfixing farewell to the stage at the Mariinsky Theatre, sublime in the letter scene and the last duet with Onegin – and among them we must count Alina Cojocaru with Johan Kobborg, two bodies gloriously united by the same physical impulses.

On Saturday night Kobborg was indisposed, and Jason Reilly (who dances the role in Stuttgart) came to the rescue as the frozen-hearted Onegin. He plays with assurance, but that intense physical rapport which seals Cojocaru/Kobborg interpretations was, unsurprisingly, absent, and Reilly’s decent account did not fire the performance. Cojocaru I found superb, her youthful impetuosity and vulnerability maturing in Gremin’s love, the dance driven ever forward, curling, curving on a tide of feeling. Tatiana lived.

Admiration, too, for Akane Takada’s charming Olga, very pretty in step (delicious pirouettes) and girlishly headstrong, and for Steven McRae’s Lensky, given an emotional ardour as vivid as the danced means, every feeling burnt on the air. The ensembles were decently done – save for the perennial problem of the doddering old ninnies at Mme Larina’s party – but the ballroom dances that open the third act lack an essential Polish verve. The Polonaise that inspires them demands physical allure and dignity, and certainly not the anaemic decencies at what seemed Come Dancing with a shop-window dummy.


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