#Throwback Thursday: Onegin

This week's #ThrowbackThursday features John Cranko's ballet Onegin.

Alina Cojocaru as Tatiana and Bennet Gartside as Prince Gremin, Royal Ballet

Based on the novel Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, Onegin, like Anna Karenina, is essentially a tragedy. It follows the lives of Tatiana and Olga Larina, and their involvement with Eugene Onegin. In Act I, the family are all anticipating Tatiana's birthday; Lensky, a poet and Olga's fiancé, arrives from St. Petersburg with his friend, Eugene Onegin. Tatiana falls in love with Onegin, and has her nurse deliver a love letter to him.

In Act II, the local nobles have all assembled to celebrate Tatiana's birthday. Onegin, bored with the company and with Tatiana, tells the distraught girl he cannot love her and tears up her letter. Meanwhile, Prince Gremin, a distant relation of Tatiana's who is in love with her, has arrived. Tatiana's mother hopes she will agree to the match, but Tatiana is distracted. Onegin decides to flirt with Olga out of boredom, but Lensky takes this seriously and challenges Onegin to a duel. Tatiana and Olga attempt to reason with Lensky, but he insists his honour is at stake and goes ahead. He is killed.

Caroline Duprot as Olga, Alina Cojocaru as Tatiana, and Johan Kobborg as Onegin, Royal Ballet

In Act III, several years have passed before Onegin finally returns to St. Petersburg. He is invited to the palace of Prince Gremin for a ball. He is shocked to discover that the beautiful Princess Tatiana is the same girl he once refused. He writes to her confessing his love, and when she refuses to see him, turns up at her door. Tatiana, who has already requested that her husband stay by her side all evening, tears up the letter and dismisses Onegin in return.

Johan Kobborg as Onegin, Royal Ballet

John Cranko first learned of Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin when he was asked to choreograph the dances for Tchaikovsky's opera of the same name in 1952. He suggested it as the subject of a ballet to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden but was rejected; after several successful productions for the Royal Ballet (including Pineapple Poll and The Prince of the Pagodas), he moved to the Stuttgart Ballet, where he cemented his reputation with his production of Romeo and Juliet in 1962.

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, Royal Ballet

He then received permission to go ahead with his Onegin project on the condition that he did not use the same score as the opera. Instead, Cranko had an arrangement of little-known Tchaikovsky pieces made for the ballet's score. The ballet premiered in Stuttgart on April 13 1965, with a cast including Marcia Haydee as Tatiana and Ray Barra as Onegin. Although some didn't approve of the fact that the opera score had been discarded (mainly opera purists, but the number included, notably, George Balanchine), the ballet has generally been hailed a success. It is in the repertoire of over twenty companies, including the Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Australian Ballet, and the National Ballet of Canada.

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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