Natalia Osipova in Royal Ballet’s Onegin

Posted: February 8th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Natalia Osipova in Royal Ballet’s Onegin

Royal Ballet, Onegin, Royal Opera House, January 30

Natalia Osipova and Matthew Golding in John Cranko's Onegin (photo: Alastair Muir)

Natalia Osipova and Matthew Golding in John Cranko’s Onegin (photo: Alastair Muir)

It is the first time in recent years that I have been gripped by the dance drama on the Royal Opera House stage and it is the interpretation by Natalia Osipova of Tatiana in John Cranko’s Onegin that is responsible. From my seat in the upper amphitheatre, each gesture she makes is clear, however subtle, and when she throws herself at her Onegin — as she does frequently — the effect is like wearing 3D glasses: she flies into the auditorium. I am too far away to see her eyes but I know exactly where they are focused at each moment. Her performance has the naturalness of improvisation — like her plonking down on a bench as she gazes at Onegin in Act 2 to her child-like intensity of stabbing the pen in the inkwell before writing her letter — and the rigour of a beautifully crafted, flawless interpretation of the steps.

Perhaps it is Osipova’s Russian soul responding to Pushkin and Tchaikovsky, but Cranko was not a Russian choreographer and the role was created on Marcia Haydée. There is something nevertheless universal in Tatiana. In his biography of Cranko, Theatre in My Blood, John Percival observes that Haydée’s Tatiana was ‘a character who grew through the work and was in every moment entirely convincing as a portrait of an exceptional but credible person.’ He could have been writing about Osipova last Friday night but I can’t help feeling she was able to infuse the role with a spirit that both Pushkin and Tchaikovsky would have recognized.

Because Osipova lives the character of Tatiana so fully, her relationship with Onegin requires a heightened sensibility from her partner. Matthew Golding acts his part with less dimensions than Osipova; he appears to remain quite tightly locked into his role — more prince than profligate. He is most at home in the beginning of the first act because he is setting up his character but in the bedroom scene where he is transformed into the dream-like persona Tatiana desires, he cannot leave his aloofness on the far side of the mirror. Osipova is superb here and Golding partners her brilliantly but he never seems to enter into the dream. In the second act Golding fails to colour Cranko’s gestures with a degree of willful petulance that will give Lensky no choice but to challenge him to a duel; we are left wondering what all the fuss is about. And while Tatiana’s stature has risen by the opening of the third act, Onegin’s hasn’t descended which creates an imbalance because the pathos of Act 3 is in the intersection of their divergent paths. At the end Golding runs off and Osipova runs after him, checking herself as she reaches the door. What I didn’t know is that Pushkin never finished his verse novel, and neither does Osipova clarify her emotional state at the end of the ballet. It is left floating in turmoil; however kind and distinguished Count Gremin may be (played with grateful devotion by Bennet Gartside), Tatiana’s heart is more her master than her mind.

There are just five principal characters in Onegin who are responsible for the development of the plot. Cranko paints Tatiana’s relationship to her sister Olga (Yasmine Naghdi) with the lightest of touches; the opening scene where the two are introduced in Jürgen Rose’s idyllic country setting reveals a tender competition, with Olga the more effusive of the two; she dances a lovely solo full of joyous bouncing steps surrounded by friends while Tatiana relaxes with feet up on a wicker bench devouring her romantic novel. Olga’s fiancée Lensky (the elegant Matthew Ball) is a finely drawn character, a romantic suitor whose attention is devoted entirely to pleasing Olga. There is no indication of any flaw in his character that will make his jealousy explode so violently in Act 2, nor is there any trait in Olga, apart from her natural ebullience, that suggests her willingness to flirt with Onegin. All this has to be whipped up at the party, and it is left to Cranko’s choreography to make this happen without the full emotional investment by these three characters. These may seem minor details but with an artist of Osipova’s calibre in the cast the standards are set very high.

I can’t imagine the ballet Onegin being created to Tchaikovsky’s opera score; what Kurt-Heinz Stolze created with his orchestral arrangements of some of Tchaikovsky’s lesser-known piano compositions and orchestral poems allows the choreography to weave together the characters of Pushkin’s novel seamlessly and leaves the beauty of Cranko’s choreography to match Tchaikovsky’s arias.

 


San Francisco Ballet: Programme B

Posted: September 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on San Francisco Ballet: Programme B

San Francisco Ballet, Programme B, Sadler’s Wells, September 15

By the second evening, the company is already more at ease. The programme starts with Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s Trio, to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, a wonderfully evocative minor key sextet that is reminiscent of the same composer’s Serenade for Strings, the score Balanchine used for his milestone 1934 work, Serenade. This circular relationship is completed by Tomasson’s fifteen years as a principal dancer with Balanchine’s company, and he is clearly drawn, consciously or unconsciously, into the powerful orbit of Serenade, especially in the appearance of the figure of Death in Trio’s second movement.

Christopher Dennis lights the stage and Alexander V. Nichols provides a backdrop of a silk-screened, close-up image of ancient buildings (Florence, perhaps) that picks up on the sentimental tone of the music and places the emotions somewhere in the past.

Against this backdrop, five couples waltz on to the stage in spirited form, like the music: straight out of the blocks. Tomasson brings us very much into the present moment, celebrating dance and the individual dancers, focusing especially on Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada, who work beautifully together in their duet and in their respective solos. Zahorian has the ability to wind up space and leave it swirling and Boada is like the torso to her limbs.

In the second, lyrical movement, we see a couple wound up in each other’s arms and a tall, slender male figure three steps behind, carving out an ominous, foreboding space: it is clear what is going to happen. Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets are the two lovers caught up in an increasingly hopeless struggle to avoid the inevitable separation. Tomasson celebrates their love in a duet that is more complex than the first, but more flesh-and-blood, with a purity that suggests the couple’s bond. Vito Mazzeo as the dark figure of Death intervenes with calculated persistence, waiting his turn patiently, mercilessly, until he steals Van Patten away, his hand shading her eyes from her beloved, who is left alone with his loss.

The third and fourth movements leave Florence and its memories behind. Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin evidently relish every moment of the lively, earthy Russian folk rhythms and all the classical technique that Tomasson throws at them. The ensemble also gets a well-grounded workout and as the spirited fourth movement spins its shapes and rhythms, the entire cast is caught up until its fast, final, turning patterns come to a sudden end. The dancers appear to be still reeling in their bows.

The opening bars of C.F. Kip Winger’s score for Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts are quietly ethereal, and the sense from the figures in their Pierrot-like costumes is one of a gathering of celestial clowns at play. Wheeldon’s caterpillar forms and subtle groupings takes us unawares at first, but as in Number Nine, he finds a path through the music for his particular movement images that by the end makes you feel the path was always there. Despite the title (which is the title of Winger’s score), this is not a poltergeist ballet, but a mixing of dream and circus, fantasy and mime that envelops what Wheeldon conceived as ‘a mass gathering of souls’. Wheeldon is a master of classical form, not only in his development of classical ballet language, but in his use of space. It is more Parthenon than Seagram Building, counterbalancing groups and shapes in a natural, asymmetrical way, aided and abetted here by Mark Zappone on costumes and Mary Louise Geiger (again) on lighting. It is a creative team that forms a total harmony. Let’s not forget the contribution of the dancers, who enter into the spirit of the work beautifully. What I like about the San Francisco Ballet is that the dancers are all distinct, yet form a unity in each work without compromising that individuality. In the middle of Ghosts, on a stage lit with leaves, Wheeldon creates a beautifully expressive duet for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith that adds a sense of reverence to the gathering of souls and the finale adds a joyous sense of fun. Makes you want to be there.

Ashley Page’s Guide to Strange Places takes its name from John Adams’ score. John Morrel’s opening image of a double yellow line down the middle of a road makes me want to overtake the head in front of me that is obscuring the view, but more importantly the road is more in character with the fast-moving opening music than with the choreography which moves fast but on foot. Paige has certainly picked up on the energy of Adams’ score, in which a broad range of percussion pounds and drives like a freight car going over a level crossing, but this leaves the dancers looking quite small in their body-tight costumes (also by Morrel), moving in different patterns that don’t quite satisfy the eye as the different instrumentation satisfies the ear. Not only that, but as the ballet goes on, I feel Paige takes a slight left turn in the road while Adams powers straight on, which is perhaps just as well, for there is a point where the percussion sounds like the theatre roof is being struck by a blunt instrument, but the classical duets continue as if nothing is amiss. According to the program notes (by Cheryl A. Ossola), Paige conceived the work as ‘an ensemble piece peppered with duets. For each one, he matched the movements, textures and tones to the dancers’ personalities and physiques.’ This translates into some great individual dancing from the four leading, colour-coded couples but it tends to keep the scale of the work intimate and inward-looking as it continues its detour to a strange place. The music has already arrived.