Australian Ballet: Onegin, State Theatre, July 3
The buzz from the audience and the divergent strands of music floating up from the orchestra pit of the State Theatre do nothing to aid concentration when trying to wrap your head around a tricky plotline – and Onegin, as performed by the Australian Ballet, snakes its way through one of these.
The ballet is a sordid tale of jealousy, infatuation and bad timing set against the backdrop of 1820s St. Petersburg. We see Lenksy, a poet engaged to Olga, and his friend Onegin, a typical ‘mysterious and aloof stranger’ figure, the target of Tatiana’s (Olga’s sister) infatuation. He shuns her cruelly, and stirs the pot by flirting with Olga, prompting the very earnest Lensky to propose a duel. Ballet not being a setting for long, consolatory conversations and subtlety, guns are whipped out and Onegin shoots Lensky. Years later, Tatiana has long realised he’s a bit of a shit bloke, and he returns to find her married, matured, and immune to the rom-com move he pulls when he professes his love to her: she shuns him right back.
The score is by Tchaikovsky and Orchestra Victoria does it justice beautifully, while the scenery catapults the audience straight into 19th century Russia. The ballet is meticulously staged and the costumes indulgent, as would have been the ball gowns of the nobility: the stage drips in sequins and diamonds that the female population of the audience wish they were wearing, and the mere aesthetic of colourful ballroom scenes draws spontaneous applause.
Kevin Jackson is perfect as the cool and elegant Onegin, bringing a bored sort of malice to the role, spiralling into sadness. He makes him charming yet unlikeable, and we are firmly on Tatiana’s side when she throws him out at the end (he is a murderer, after all). Miwako Kubota is also well-cast as Tatiana, morphing from vulnerable in an emotive first half to regal in the second. She irrefutably burns in her very last scene; the curtain closes on her refusing to even look at Onegin, ordering him out with one arm and staring out defiantly at the audience, unswayed.
However, the other two mains - Lensky and Olga - were a bit of a disappointment. Generally the ballet company uses principal artists, senior artists or soloists as the main cast, ensuring polished technique and dancers used to such a high pressure stage, but tonight they are simply two members of the corps de ballet, and it shows. Neither are struggling much technically - likely it’s just nerves that makes them a little wobbly, and that sees some back legs bent and pirouettes come unstuck.
The State Theatre stage must be a daunting one to dance upon, especially when performing opposite hardened dancers like Jackson and Kubota, and no doubt better stage presence, chemistry and poise will come as they move up the ranks within the company. For tonight though, despite Olga and Lensky’s relationship unravelling in spectacular form, there should be no room for stumbles when it comes to the dancers’ proficiency. Though an enjoyable performance, it relied heavily on Jackson and Kubota to carry it and make the melodrama believable through their sureness of movement and presence on the stage.