The celebrated Stuttgart Ballet danced John Cranko's celebrated Onegin last weekend at the Fox Theatre. It is a handsome production, with gorgeous sets (particularly) and costumes by Jürgen Rose, and its being performed to live music -- some of St. Louis' best non-Symphony musicians formed the orchestra -- added mightily to the production's splendor.
Cranko, renowned not only for his choreography but for the "Stuttgart miracle," turning the city's OK ballet company into a world-class organization with a huge repertoire and a style of its own, was born and initially trained in South Africa, where turning opera into ballet is a common practice.
In making Onegin, however, Cranko and his musical collaborator, Kurt-Heinz Stolze, decided against using the music from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, lest audiences expect only a mimed version of the opera. Instead, they made a pastiche of little-known Tchaikovsky pieces, which Stolze then orchestrated. The resulting score is much crisper than Tchaikovsky would ever have produced and, though not modern, certainly 20th-century in sound.
Cranko also played with the plot of Alexander Pushkin's verse-novel, wherein the unsettled, neurotic and Byronic title character rejects the love of a young woman only to find, too late, that she is his soulmate. Pushkin's Eugene (and he of the Tchaikovsky opera) is the Russian version of sorrowing young Werther, who kills other people instead of himself but regrets it. Cranko's Eugene, on the other hand, is a jerk, a creepy cul who rejects as he attracts, with a touch of some mittel-european spook like Dracula about him.
Ivan Cavallari, the Stuttgart principal who danced the title role Friday evening, certainly seemed vampirelike, costumed in black with long black hair and a pallid face. Cranko's choreography made Onegin proud and far above the rural gentry who were his hosts. His first pas with Tatiana (Elena Tentshikova, a company soloist) kept starting them off together, but eventually he would literally move ahead of and above her. This contrasted strongly with the lyric pas danced by Tatiana's sister Olga (the charming Penelope Cantrell, listed in the program as a member of the corps de ballet) and her fiancé, Lensky (the equally charming Alexander Zaitsev, yet another soloist). I grieved a bit when, at the end of Act 2, Onegin killed Lensky, whose dancing and character seem so superior, in a duel. The wrong guy went down -- but that's Russians for you.
Though all the dancing was genuinely beautiful, I wondered how much better it would have been had more principals taken the main parts. On both Friday and Saturday, only the men who danced Onegin were principals. On Saturday, three of the dancers were listed as members of the corps -- as yet not recognized as soloists within the company. Didn't Stuttgart care enough to send the very best to St. Louis? If this is the case, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, despite the sweetness and quality of what they did send.