Stella Abrera as Tatiana with David Hallberg as Onegin.
On America’s shores, choreographer John Cranko is rarely given his due. Thank heavens for American Ballet Theatre, which delves in the treasures that lay beyond New York with a rich mix of the world’s greatest dance makers – including Cranko.
The South African born choreographer made his name in London and Stuttgart. But his ballets languished after his early death at age 45.
Yet Cranko’s brilliance for drama was revived in the heart-shattering ABT staging of his “Onegin.” The tragic love story based on the Pushkin’s verse novel and the opera with music by Tchaikovsky is beautifully staged and well told. While the well-appointed sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto continually capture the eye – it’s the rapid advancing story telling that keep audience’s interested. Cranko does not dawdle by overloading the with ballet frivolous ensemble sections. He sets the scene with the corps de ballet and then cut to the chase -- the calamitous love between the troubled and callous Onegin and the sweet Tatiana.
It’s no wonder Diana Vishneva chose the lead in “Onegin” for her farewell performance on Friday night.
While I unfortunately missed that, I was thrilled to see Saturday’s matinee at the Metropolitian Opera House with Stella Abrera as Tatiana and Cory Stearns as Onegin. It was deeply satisfying.
Abrera was ideal as the bookish country girl who falls for the stately and arrogant Onegin. She infused her portrayal with a light, but earnest touch, clearly conveying her hopeful affections and her devastation when Onegin rebuffs her advances.
Stearns was a match for her with a delivery that left all convinced that Onegin was completely soulless as he so easily shatters Tatiana and then shoots his friend Lensky in a duel the very same night.
Of course, much of their ability to nail character is inherent in Cranko’s unfettered choreography that bores into the bone of their feelings. As Tatiana throws herself at Onegin and then in the end Onegin throws himself at her, there is no doubt about the depth of their emotions.
Joseph Gorak, as Onegin’s unlucky friend Lensky, was also terrific. His technique is flawless. And as Lensky, he too took the audience on his own emotional ride – with his soaring joy in his love for Olga and his fateful anger at Onegin for dancing with her at a Tatiana’s birthday party.
It was also wonderful to see Martine van Hamel on stage once again as Madame Larina. While she no longer whips off fouettes, her knowledge of all things ballet shines through in her presence.
Of course, there is not better partner for ballet than the music of Tchaikovsky. Conductor Charles Barker led the orchestra through this grim tale with force and passion.
All in all, ABT demonstrated why it is one of the best ballet companies in American.