April 12, 2019
Ballet West’s premiere of John Cranko’s Onegin was a sumptuous, breathtaking and emotionally wrenching epic journey that confirmed the company’s international stature through the quality of the dancing, the richly and convincingly embodied characters, and the sheer beauty of the production. Artistic Director Adam Sklute has shown, once again, his ability to marry his knowledge of ballet history and repertoire to the capabilities of his fine dancers.
Cranko’s masterful interpretation of Alexander Pushkin’s 19th-century verse novel is distilled into three acts and danced to an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral repertory, rather than his well-known opera. The story is revealed in numerous ways – through the indelible force of Cranko’s choreography for the Russian countryside gentry – in one unforgettable sequence, Tatiana’s birthday celebration erupts into a dazzling tsuami of couples flying from one side of the stage to the other, the women lifted in a rapid-fire sequence of split jumps, to more subtle and emotionally charged ways: disdain expressed in full force, with the mere tilt of a head and a brutal lack of eye contact.
The motif of the mirror as revelatory of love – that may or may not exist – takes a special poignancy in the moment when Onegin steps through the space of her reflection, seen only a moment before. A dream sequence followed, a passionate duet with Cranko’s signature eye-popping lifts that travel with urgency around the stage, spiraling to the ground and back, full of desire and promise.
Aarolyn Williams was an exquisite Tatiana, soft and starry-eyed when she first met Onegin, heart-breakingly vulnerable when rebuffed, then regal and self-assured during her encounter with Onegin years later. Rex Tilton was born to be Onegin – tall, handsome, with a square jaw and a steely aloofness that read easily with a slight turn of his head or a lift of his chin. Jenna Rae Herrera and Joshua Shutkind as Olga and Lensky – two dancers to watch – danced with an infectious joy, well-contrasted to the protagonists’ melancholy.
The corps de ballet was well-rehearsed and clearly enjoying the sweep of Cranko’s material for them. In the last scene, Williams punctured our hearts, as she tortured over what could have been, what could happen now, and the clear wisdom and finality of her choice to preserve her marriage and her dignity: the unspoken brutality of Pushkin’s words, embodied and realized to the rafters.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson