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San Francisco Ballet's “Eugene Onegin” is Exquisite Dance

by Joanna G. Harris
May 2, 2016
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5600
Joanna G. Harris Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
The San Francisco Ballet has produced choreographer John Cranko’s “Eugene Onegin” three times since 2012 when it was first scene on the War Memorial Opera House stage. Although it premiered in Stuttgart in 1965, this production was revised in 1967 and has become a standard story ballet for SFB. Alexander Pushkin’s poem is not a fairy-tale work. It cannot be compared to “Cinderella” or “The Sleeping Beauty,” and such escape favorites. “Onegin” is a tough tale of a woman’s love that is rejected, a friend is killed, and the lover is subsequently rejected. It's tough stuff for a ballet.

Yet the plot was carried by three “pas de deux,” which as executed by Saturday night, April 30’s cast, Maria Kochetkova as Tatiana, with Vitor Luiz as Onegin, developed and connected their changing relationship to make this the best of drama. Some regard the ballet as melodrama, saying it is overstated and grotesque. But Kochetkova and Luiz have both dance and dramatic abilities that make it work and satisfy Pushkin’s romantic images. Gennadi Nedvigin performed a haunting solo, as Lensky, Onegin’s friend, who, provoked by Onegin’s presumption on his fiancé at a ball, challenged him to a duel. At the start of Act II Scene 2, Lensky dances his dilemma, caught between love and revenge. It was a beautiful gift to all his fans who only recently bid him farewell as a principal artist of the company.

Each of the ballet's acts moved the drama along with a ballroom scene depicting the various stages of Tatiana’s advancement through womanhood. All were delightful, from the Act I country and Russian peasant dances with the acrobatic pliés and jumps for the men and the zig-zag footwork for the women. Tatiana’s birthday party was celebrated with a lively mazurka and although she was excluded by Onegin, who chose Lensky’s fiancé Olga, she found a partner in Prince Gremin, admirably danced by Joan Boada.

Boada and Kochetkova are the principals in Act III, wherein Maria, now mature and married to Prince Gremin, danced a powerful duet depicting their intimacy. This inflamed Onegin to finally swear his love for her in Scene 2, whereupon in their third duet, the conflict was resolved and Onegin was rejected. Not many dancers can carry such powerful dramatic communication.

Lauren Strongin was notable in the role of Olga, Tatiana’s sister whose innocent flirtations with the forceful Onegin led to Lensky’s death. Her vitality and dancing pleasure was in exuberant contrast to Tatiana’s early obsession with Onegin. Grace Shibley as Madame Larine and Ellen Rose Hummel as the Nurse are also to be congratulated.

Tchaikovsky’s various piano and orchestral pieces provided excellent accompaniment. Martin West continued his brilliant work as SFB’s orchestra conductor.
SF Ballet's Maris Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in John Cranko's “Eugene Onegin.”

SF Ballet's Maris Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in John Cranko's “Eugene Onegin.”

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson


SF Ballet's Gennadi Nedvifin as Lensky in John Cranko's “Eugene Onegin.”

SF Ballet's Gennadi Nedvifin as Lensky in John Cranko's “Eugene Onegin.”

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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