The You Snooze, You Lose Ballet: My Review of SF Ballet’s Onegin

Let me say right up front, if you have never had the pleasure of experiencing the ballet, Onegin, please make immediate plans to do so. You will thank me later.

When San Francisco Ballet announced last year that they were going to perform Onegin, I was beside myself with happiness. I love SF Ballet and even though I have never seen the entire production, I knew it was one that should be on my must see list. The Pushkin poem is brilliant and I have to tell you that the story really appeals to me because Tatiana is a wonderful female role. She gives away her heart only to have it broken but she recovers and she grows up and lives happily ever after by her own choices.

I appreciate Cranko choreography. He had a gift to tell a story cleanly and clearly.   The lack of excellence in literature makes it clear that it is difficult enough to tell a story with words but without them, well… it takes some formidable talent, to be sure. Onegin can be challenging literature because it is actually in verse, basically a really long poem. Though the plot itself is pretty straight forward and such a wonderful choice for a ballet because there are nicely formed, distinct characters.

I attended the final performance on February 3rd. My cast was Ruben Martin Cintas as Onegin, Yuan Yuan Tan as Tatiana, Jaime Garcia Castilla as Lensky, and Dores Andre as Olga. Interesting that with the exception of the lovely Yuan Yuan it was an all Spanish cast 🙂

Ruben Cintas had a bit of a rough start, he almost tripped and his first set of turns was definitely off kilter but he brought it back and delivered a really wonderful performance, you basically couldn’t stand him by the end which is how it should be for Onegin. Yuan Yuan was lovely throughout and did a great job of moving Tatiana from being an innocent young girl to being a beautiful, strong woman. Immediately following the duel between Lenksy and Onegin, there is a moment between Onegin and Tatiana where she sees him for the narcissistic creep that he is and she grows up. It’s an intense exchange that is really just a look between them but you know, you feel it, it’s a soul moving moment. Jaime Castilla was a cute Lensky in the first act but by the second act for his solo, he brought the house down. It’s a gorgeous solo and he made it positively luxurious. Goose bumps. Dores Andre was a cute Olga. Olga is an interesting character because you don’t like her that much but you have no reason to really dislike her either. Sure, she responds to Onegin’s flirtations causing the rift between Onegin and Lensky but she didn’t want the duel to happen, she certainly didn’t want to lose Lensky. Olga is simply not a soul-stirring part. Dores danced Olga well, it’s just that Olga isn’t the most memorable role on the planet.

The corps rocked it out! There are several corp driven scenes including two ballroom dances that were positively fabulous. To be perfectly honest, I can sometimes get a little bored with a long and very repetitive ballroom/party/wedding/etc scene. I can’t be sure but maybe ballroom/party/wedding/etc choreography isn’t too thrilling because you’ve got to get a couple dozen or so people all arranged in what becomes a small space once you get everyone out on stage or something. I don’t know but I was actually riveted with the party and then the ballroom scene. The corps de ballet were just all over it with a passion.

I love the music to Onegin, it’s Tchaikovsky’s Seasons. Gorgeous. The orchestra did a positively beautiful job with it. I have to say that the string section sounded particularly rich. It just surrounded the dance completely.

The sets were amazing! The use of a series of scrims was brilliant. The ballroom scene where a grownup Tatiana dances with her Prince husband elicited gasps of pleasure from the audience and when the scrim was fully risen to show the corps in this deep red ballroom replete with enormous chandeliers and candelabras, the audience broke out into applause before a single step was danced. I really loved the costumes as well, my only objection was the choice of colors for Lensky, the green was a little… green. Onegin’s black suit is perfection and the dresses on the girls were absolutely adorable.

SF Ballet’s offering of Onegin was truly a wonderful event. If this is how they do it now, I can only imagine when they grow into it as a company! Onegin is pure ballet goodness.

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