Onegin, with Nuñez and Soares, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, January 2015

For John Cranko’s 1960s take on Pushkin’s verse narrative the husband and wife partnership of Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares is about as perfect as it gets.

Nuñez and Soares, Act I

Nuñez and Soares, Act I

The tearing up of one another’s letters — a Cranko innovation absent from Pushkin, where Onegin rejects her advances in a far gentler way — was effected with cool irritation, but my goodness the effect on the Tatiana of Ms Nuñez was not to be underestimated. Devastation in Act I, and emptiness after she returns the compliment in Act III unsupported by much warmth on the part of Ryoichi Hirano as her husband Prince Gremin. His noble restraint revealed little of the life and joy their marriage might contain — in short a portrayal showing a bore of a husband, more like the Onegin of Act I than the wiser man of Pushkin.

The coldness with which Cranko invests Onegin might be thought a flaw in this ballet, but Soares gives it a dark intensity to which Nuñez’s response left her emotionally drained, barely able to acknowledge the cheers of the audience at the end. She had given an inspired and even understated performance in which the pas-de-deux of the letter scene achieved a level of ethereality where her gloriously flowing movements allowed her to float and even fly through the air accompanied by the personification of her dreams. This bookish girl finds passion, and Soares’ partnering allowed it to ascend to worlds unknown.

Muntagirov as Lensky, ROH/ Tristram Kenton

Muntagirov as Lensky, ROH/ Tristram Kenton

By contrast Vadim Muntagirov and Akane Takada as Lensky and Olga showed the simple joys of life and love, until Onegin decides to ruin his friend’s happiness by exposing Olga’s shallowness. The bright and sparkling Olga of Ms Takada, a prey to the thrill of the moment, seemed to inspire the stylish poetic lyricism of Muntagirov’s Lensky. Here was a man of great finesse, both in his early solo and his dancing with Olga. When Onegin provoked him beyond endurance he nobly maintained control, expressing his inner emotions beautifully in the two pas-de-trois with Tatiana and Olga. And towards the end of Act II the wildness of his solo retained a musicality that rendered a superb portrayal of Lensky the poet.

Act III, Tatiana and Onegin, ROH/ Bill Cooper

Act III, Tatiana and Prince Gremin, ROH/ Bill Cooper

It is intriguing to see Muntagirov in such roles on his way to becoming one of the finest dancers in the Company history, yet it was more than just the principals. The ensemble dancing was terrific, and the orchestra under Dominic Grier produced a lyrically emotional rendering of the score. For its original creation the Stuttgart Ballet was quite right to avoid the music for Tchaikovsky’s opera on the same topic, and Kurt-Heinz Stolze’s adaptation of other pieces by Tchaikovsky still carries plenty of emotional punch.

Performances with various casts continue until February 27 — for details click here.

Leave a Comment