Love, drama, passion, suffering at the ABT

I once ran into an ex-boyfriend years after we broke up. It wasn't at all like The Way We Were or any movie where two exes see each other and all the feelings rush back. I barely remembered anything about him, and he had an irritating habit of spitting on the sidewalks. Finally I got so annoyed I got off one stop early on the subway and walked home to avoid spending another minute with him. So much for romance.

But that's real life. In ballet, passion is eternal. When two former lovers meet in ballet, the world stops. Hearts collide. And most of all, women bend backwards in a swoon (see above picture) over and over again, to accentuate the point that passion is, indeed, eternal. John Cranko's Onegin is a lush, romantic adaptation of Tchaikovsky's already lush, romantic adaptation of a famous Russian poem. It needs lush, romantic dancers to maximize the drama and romance, and tonight at the ABT, it certainly got the performance of a lifetime in the pair of Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes, who I'm sure made more than a few hearts flutter.

Diana Vishneva was absolutely masterful in her portrayal of the shy but passionate Tatyana. I went last year and thought it was beautiful, but this year's performance was just on a different level. Diana has that Russian jelly-like back that allows her to make that perfect arc in her back whenever the choreography calls for backward swoons, and she has the weightlessness that allows her to seem as light as paper in the overhead lifts. But more importantly, she makes the connection between the shy, romantic schoolgirl of the first two acts and the dignified, married woman of the final act clear. Tatyana may be happily married, but for Vishneva, the fire that was there when she was a teenager still burns from within. It's this same quality that makes her Giselle so special -- the ability to suggest a smoldering passion inside the shy girl. In her duet with her husband Gremin (a rather stolid James Whiteside) she ended by planting her head in his shoulders -- this is a woman who still craves affection and passion. Her frenzied final pas de deux with Onegin had Vishneva at times falling completely limp into Onegin's arms. Other times she flailed her limbs wildly. When she finally ordered Onegin from the room her legs were weak and she looked ready to expire. It might have been a little silent-movie acting, but this is what the ballet needs.

Marcelo Gomes was the perfect partner for Vishneva. The role of Onegin is strangely empty -- all the other major principals have more substantial dancing parts. Onegin does a lot of walking around looking bored, and then is called for a lot of heavy lifting in the duets. But Marcelo is so handsome that one can believe that young girls would lose their heart to him, even though Onegin in the beginning of the ballet is not capable of returning anyone's feelings. Gomes is a wonderful partner -- his duets with Vishneva were so feral they had the crowd roaring. He repeatedly lifted her up in the air only to have her arch her back so completely it looked like she would fall backwards, but of course she did not. It was in a word, gorgeous.

The secondary couple of Olga (Isabella Boylston) and Lensky (Jared Matthews) were a wonderful foil for the dark passions of Onegin and Tatyana. Boylston was perky and extroverted as Olga. She has a buoyant jump and it's one of the geniuses of Vishneva's portrayal that Tatyana actually did seem tiny and mousy next to Olga. (In real life, Vishneva is move-star glam.) Lensky has the most substantial dancing of any of the principals. Cranko's choreography for Lensky is perhaps his best in the entire ballet. Before the duel with Onegin Lensky is given a long adagio solo. Jared Matthews was quite wonderful in this role -- sensitive and sincere.

This ballet has some weaknesses that are more apparent upon repeated viewings. The choreography for the corps de ballet is one man-armlinks-woman waltz after another. It's charming the first time (especially in the finale of Act One when the ladies grande jete across the stage) but by the third act the waltzing has grown stale and one is just waiting for the "real stuff." The piecemeal score of Tchaikovsky music sometimes seems to be a collection of Tchaikovsky at his most formulaic. And big moments strangely go for nothing -- Onegin's rejection of Tatyana is a rushed, blink-and-you-miss-it moment that's interrupted by (you guessed it) couples waltzing. The duel between Lensky and Onegin takes place at the very back of the stage behind a scrim, and the focus is on the reactions of Olga and Tatyana. In other words, it's up to the dancers to make this ballet come alive, and last night the ABT had the perfect combination of dancers. They lived, they loved, they suffered, and we lived, loved, and  suffered along with them.


Popular posts from this blog

COVIDammerung -- The End of the World in Met Streams

Comparing Nutcrackers Across the Pond

Angela Meade's Anna