September 3, 2004


Santa Fe Opera House

Santa Fe, New Mexico

September 3–4, 2004

Reviewed by Marilyn Hunt


New Swan Lakes and Nutcrackers come along constantly, so why not Onegin, since John Cranko’s ballet has proven so popular? However, because Onegin is closely tied to its source, Alexander Pushkin’s long poem placed primarily at a Russian country house in the 19th century, it doesn’t readily yield to varied settings and psychological interpretations to add new interest. Still, the prospect of a new version sounded intriguing as a capstone for a cultural event in Santa Fe called “Russian Summer.”

St. Petersburg-trained Vasily Medvedev choreographed this version in 1999 at the Prague National Ballet and here presented it with the corps of the National Theater Brno. The familiar music, well played by the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, consisted of Tchaikovsky selections (including Symphony No. 2, the “Little Russian”), most of them different from the Cranko version’s masterfully arranged Tchaikovsky score.

The story of the aristocratic, bored Onegin wrecking the lives of Tatiana, the young woman who loves him, and the young lovers Olga and Lensky, followed a libretto similar to Cranko’s. A couple of new, melodramatic, repetitive sequences slowed the action. On the other hand, many scenes, bereft of all but a few sticks of furniture placed in a black hole of a set, tended to be short and sketchy, with standard Russian virtuoso sequences and muscular lifts giving little characterization: Lensky supports Olga in ordinary pirouettes for their last meeting. As is often done in recent Russian ballets, Medvedev avoids traditional mime in favor of literal touches: a passionate kiss in a short dream pas de deux; Tatiana and Onegin rolling over and over in a nightmare of rape. At its best, however, in a new scene, Maria Eichwald (of the Stuttgart Ballet) as Tatiana briefly becomes a shy, awkward country girl rather than a ballerina, while Viacheslav Samodurov as Onegin is allowed to give up fancy jumps for once in favor of a thoughtful adagio solo.

Of the fine principals, the two leading men stood out: Samodurov (an ex-Kirov dancer, now with The Royal Ballet) for his elegant technical polish as Onegin and Igor Kolb (of the Kirov) for his quirky stage personality at tense moments as Lensky.