Onegin, Ballet by John Cranko
Acclaimed choreographer John Cranko was working on the dance sequences in the opera Eugene Onegin by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in the early 1950s when inspiration struck him. Ever since then, he had the vision of a ballet based on the Russian Romantic composer’s music in his head. When he moved to the Staatsoper in Stuttgart, Cranko could finally realize this vision, and his Onegin ballet had its premiere there on 13 April 1965. Ever since then, it has been a favourite neoclassical performance to revive across Europe. This season’s shows in Prague shine with the same freshness and impact as the famed original.
The story of Onegin recounts the main plot points of the famous novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin: Eugene Onegin’s pride and impulsivity deprive him of the true love of Tatiana. Years later, Onegin seeks to regain what he has foolishly cast away, but it is too late. His perseverance and short temper lead him from one disaster to the next. In the rich tradition of Russian Romanticism, both music and narration combine to elevate the tragedy to a resounding climax.
To the electrifying plot by Pushkin, Cranko adds a remarkably multistylistic choreography. Classical, modern, acrobatic, folk and ballroom ballet traditions all flow into one coherent presentation that is bound to impress. The music is arranged by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, a collaborator of Cranko’s in Stuttgart who based the ballet’s score on Tchaikovsky’s piano works. This choice retained the Russian composer’s dramatic appeal while scaling down the auditory dramatics in favour of the on-stage dance action. The result is a highly eclectic and appealing modern ballet work that many in the 1960s characterized as ahead of its time. Cranko’s Onegin has proved its staying power throughout the years, and the Prague revival is bound to bring new fans of the work together.