Onegin – Núñez, Soares, Muntagirov, Takada, Royal Opera House, February 4th 2015

What a delight to have this piece danced so well. Yes, yes, I know it’s a hodgepodge of music, barely Tchaikovsky at all some would suggest and would that it were not, because he’s rolling in his grave at the traducement of this cut and pasted score etc., etc. Sure, the music is a bit hit and miss, and the conducting too but I came for the dancing (or rather, for Vadim Muntagirov) and went home happy.

Muntagirov, then.

As Lensky, he has a technically secure partnership with Akane Takada’s Olga, but I wanted something a little more from it, a frisson, a little more chemistry. Their shared dances go past effortlessly and classily, but perhaps Takada’s really not the girl for him. Muntagirov is never less than attentive to his charge (I had my eyes trained on him as he sat on the bench in the background of the action and he continued to “make love” (in the old fashioned sense, ladies, gentleman) with Olga. Little glances, doting looks were shared, the picture of a very happy couple.

At the forefront of the stage he of course excels. I feel he never fails to enchant – if he is well cast. And well cast he is of course. The role becomes him, and he was born to dance it, and to dance this type of soaring role. One could not imagine him much as Onegin proper, but as the light to that man’s shade, he is humane, graceful and of course, doomed.  The girl next to me started crying quietly as soon as he came onstage. (She had seen him a few nights previously). Upon his kissing Olga’s neck, the girl unconsciously brushed her neck immediately after: the spell, cast. (Those kisses travel far.) Lensky’s anger in Act II  was palpable from the far reaches of the Amphi, where I sat. His heaving shoulders, his rage building. Tension hung in the air. Propriety affronted: a duel to settle, music for a doomed youth.

This then was Muntagirov’s moment, and this then, his time to shine. And shine he did. The subsequent Act II solo which swept by was rightly glorious: reaching yearning, high despair, all flowed as poetry from his lines, his limbs. It is difficult to make poetry from Lensky’s brute death. It only succeeds if Lensky comes to us as a noble fellow, one a little too good for the world. Or if the music – as with Tchaikovsky’s “real” Onegin comes to our ears, and touches out hearts. Credit to him for bringing truth to this part. It needs not be said, but credit too, for dancing it so wonderfully. (As counterbalance, I do find Cranko’s “pow!” moment in the middle of Act III – Lensky miming the duel with a “gun finger” – a bit silly, but is sort of works….)

On then to Onegin proper. He was here tonight danced by Thiago Soares. Mr Soares is a dancer I have had a few reservations about in the past, but this piece finds him in a whole new gear. Compared to Don Quixote where I last saw him, he was for me, almost a whole new dancer. He was comfortable in the role as the crass blackguard , a man who hates because he perhaps hates himself. His is a lupine, preening boorish Onegin, a prig who thrusts himself around the stage and in his dancing he cuts through space, incising it as he does Tatiana’s heart. In later contrition for his behaviour, in his abasement at the feet of his lost love he convinced. And as a further note, he has one of the nicest “ballet runs” I have seen (arms stretched in entreaty/anguish, running v. fast offstage).

Marianela Núñez is a coy Tatiana in Act I and her dreamworld duet (equivalent to the famous “Letter Scene” from the opera) with Onegin was carried off with panache. It was entirely credible to see this as the dream of a smitten young girl. At the start of their partnership onstage, I felt them perhaps too “rote”, too reliant on muscle memory perhaps, or a feeling of going through the motions. Their partnership had the appearance of “just warming up”, but this soon gave way to cruising ease. They had found their stride, and it did not abate.

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Thiago Soares (Onegin) and Marianela Nuñez (Tatiana), in Onegin. (C) Tristram Kenton

Thereafter as a pair they projected a blazing energy, that same pas de duex at the close of Act I especially sensual, almost blissful in incipient sexual ecstasy. The final duet was wrenching.

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    Muss es sein? Ja. Es muss sein. (I was  reminded a bit of Masaccio.)

Binoculars revealed that Núñez‘s grief was felt to her core. One could not be but moved seeing desolation sweeping through her being as she dismissed Lensky. This was less acting, more truth without artifice, grief laid bare before us. I only wish to say that it felt entirely real, perhaps because in part, whatever the pair were feeling was somehow genuine. One hesitates to think “where” this came from, whether “method” helped, or whether it was investment in role, or whether it was just plain force of dance, but whatever it was, it was painful to “overhear”. And indeed one could even hear, against ballets de rigueur silence, sharp breaths, mute cries, frustrated stifled sobs, the harrowing of two souls taking place before us, the more forceful for being denied voice. For voice would instead yield angry words, useless talk, negotiation, strategies of entreaty. Here, Dance was all. Directed force became vectors of despair. Ardour turned to denial, abnegation to flight. I teared up pretty much instantly on seeing Núñez in those closing moments. Watching, we felt moved. Bravi.

And now look at this photo, taken at curtain, moments after the finish*. This is naked and unfeigned feeling, even after the piece has finished.

They are not acting here, they had felt whatever the characters were choreographed to feel. I had not ever seen anything like that before, and wonder if I will soon again.

And so prosaically: Dominic Grier‘s conducting was less brilliant for me, he didn’t seem to look to his dancers very much so as to react to their pace. Act I’s muzhik dance was perhaps a little too speedy, and the Act III ball scene for the corps felt dangerously fast! A wobble from the French horn solo line in act I was a bit obvious, but the ROH band did an OK job.

I am to see this with Natalia Ospiova on Saturday 7th, two days time from time of writing. How will she do? Word is, very well indeed, her dancing of the role a “reinvention” of it, almost. One imagines a different personality of interpretation from her: poise, ice perhaps? a cracking mask? From her Giselle, I know she can do “fragile ingenue” very well. Regardless, I shall find out. For now though, enduring memories of Vadim’s nobilty, Thiago’s despair, Marianela‘s anguish. A lovely evening, visceral and moving, achieving a

9/10

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Obligatory terrible phonecam pic

Ballet snark:

To the couple in front of me, who whispered and talked all evening: Sorry I told you off at second interval but I had to. The lady in front of you was pleased too, after turning round and making “shhhh” noises/gestures at you, which you ignored. Also, how anyone can be checking their phone during the emotional destruction of Act III is beyond me. Oh well.

* of an earlier performance.

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