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As any ballerina worth her salt knows, appearing as Tatyana in John Cranko’s Onegin is an irresistible, knock-’em-down, tear- jerking emotional opportunity that is almost – almost -– foolproof. And male dancers, if they have their wits about them, know that they can almost – almost – trump the ballerina’s aces in the last scene with agonies of passion as Onegin to set against the heroine’s cadenzas of resignation and love denied. And waiting in the wings for the curtain calls, the second leads – the innocent Olga, the headstrong Lensky – know that the audience’s cheers are theirs as rewards for victimisation through heedless love and impetuous pas de deux.
’Twas ever thus with Onegin, a superbly engineered theatrical machine, and so it proved yet again on Friday night, when the Royal Ballet revived the piece with a very strong cast. One of the fascinations of watching Alina Cojocaru (Tatyana) and Johan Kobborg (Onegin) is the closeness of their physical rapport, the bravura of partnering that bespeaks an absolute dramatic sympathy as well as an absolute dedication in rehearsal.
Both artists are entirely inside their roles. Quietly marvellous is the moment when Kobborg rejects Tatyana’s letter and places his hands on her shoulders, as if to calm her emotions. We see Onegin’s pride and frozen heart, Tatyana’s impetuous romanticism, and in the closing scene’s frenzies, we feel the waves of his passion beating against the unyielding rock of her devotion to Gremin. And at this moment the understanding between these two artists, their common trust, their shared sense of theatre, created a theatrical blaze.
Kobborg lays Onegin’s desolate soul bare, and Cojocaru finds, and beautifully shows she finds, the strength to resist him. The Opera House audience went ape. And as admirable foils, we had Sarah Lamb’s sweetness as Olga, and Ivan Putrov’s ardent Lensky, roles played with entire grace of means. How prettily Lamb set out Olga’s dances; how hot-blooded is Putrov’s Lensky.
And, in the sometimes blank role of Prince Gremin, Bennet Gartside showed us a nobleman (he has the profile and, surely, the manner of one of those aristos whose portraits line the walls of the Mikhailovsky Palace in Petersburg), and a proper foil to Onegin. Eager playing from the company, save for the grotesque ancients at the Act 2 ball chez Mme Larina, and a luscious account of the score under Valery Ovsyanikov.
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