Review: 2012 San Francisco Ballet’s Program 1: John Cranko’s Onegin

Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in Cranko's Onegin. © Erik Tomasson

Rarely has a ballet treated its title character with such little sympathy. But equally rare is a full-length ballet assembled with intricate detail that ultimately sweeps the audience up on a breathtaking journey and challenges the audience with such rich choreography. John Cranko’s full-length production of Onegin is a gem. Loosely based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem “Eugene Onegin”, rather than a simplistic love story we’ve come to expect from full-length ballets, this is a refreshing moral tale told in the most interesting way.

Stunning costume and scenic design (by Santo Loquasto) would be empty without solid choreography to sustain such a dramatic journey. John Cranko’s choreography intimately captures the emotions of his characters so well. In addition, his choreography is rife with literature metaphor, an homage to the origin of the story perhaps. In the final pas de deux, Onegin pulls Tatiana’s arms back as she tries to walk forward, symbolizing the burden he had become in keeping her from progressing forward in her life. Add a layer of ingenuity to taking classical ballet steps and adding twists in the partnering, or a sprinkling of modern angles – a lean of the hip here, an innovative lift there. The peasant

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dances were the most interesting that I’d seen onstage, as  usually they are seen

as “fillers” for the more interesting sections. Not so here.

Maria Kochetkova in Cranko's Onegin. © Erik Tomasson

Overall, the choreography captured the emotions of the characters, but also gave the audience lots of things to think about as well. I love choreography that assumes an intelligent viewer. It’s a ballet to capture the heart and brains of its audience.

For the Sunday matinee performance, lead principals Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba lit up the stage in a breathless performance. Van Patten’s heart-wrenching performance led many to tears in the final pas de deux with Pierre Francois Vilanoba, complexly layered with nostalgia, bitter regret, revenge, and heart. They appeared to be dancing a performance of a lifetime, and it was amazing to watch. Isaac Hernandez as Lensky displayed lovely transitions and phrasing, particularly in the curvature of his back and arms, but perhaps didn’t quite have the gravity of presence to master the fiery role. Courtney Elizabeth lit up the house with a lovely natural smile as the fun-loving Olga.

Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in Cranko's Onegin. © Erik Tomasson

In short, this production is one not to be missed. In my twitter account, I tweeted a three word review of this production, which was “pretty frickin’ amazing”. And that about sums it up. All of the parts of this production lined up to become more than the addition of its parts, with spectacular dancing throughout.

Did you see this production? Who did you see in the leads? I would have loved to have seen Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz dance the title roles as well, I’m sure they were amazing too.

Onegin continues until February 3. Click here for more information. Program 2 starts on February 14.

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