Onegin, Covent Garden, London

Standards slip at the Royal Ballet
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The Independent Culture

London

Cheers greeted the Royal Ballet's reopening at Covent Garden after its Australian tour. I do not like to be the bad fairy at the party, but a few reservations are in order. John Cranko's Onegin was the ballet, one of this season's new productions, and a very welcome one. The combination of Pushkin's story, music by Tchaikovsky (not his opera, but an excellent arrangement of shorter pieces that are well suited to dancing) and Cranko's vivid, dramatic choreography is enjoyable irrespective of how it is performed. The problem is, that last proviso ought not to be necessary.

There is more to this work than the Royal Ballet has yet found in it. I am not forgetting that the dancers must be tired after so much travelling and performing. That, however, is something the directors are responsible for. And anyway, my complaint is about interpretation, not technique. To expect a company that is unfamiliar with Cranko's style to make as much of it as the Stuttgart Ballet, for which it was made, would be unfair (the appearance of two guest artists from Stuttgart later in the week should demonstrate that).

The worrying thing, however, is that thinking back not so many years to when London Festival Ballet used to dance Onegin, I remember every single role being better done there. I suspect that we would be better off if we heard less from the Royal Ballet director Ross Stretton about energy, and more about communication. The priorities are wrong.

Dancers who made promising debuts earlier in the season are not living up to them. Mara Galeazzi's once sensitive account of the heroine Tatiana was this time a bit heavy-handed. Adam Cooper's Onegin is still fine in an unexpectedly tentative way, but it hasn't deepened. Ivan Putrov, whose potential as Onegin's friend Lensky looked great, now seems to want to show off his steps rather than his role. Onegin must be the only romantic ballet where the leading male characters are known by their surnames alone, but that should not mean neglecting the personality.

Some hopes showed through. Jane Burn, new as Tatiana's frivolous sister Olga, found a lot of subtle detail in the role. The corps de ballet was almost as good as before. And the Royal Ballet Sinfonia (borrowed from Birmingham) refused to allow Charles Barker's lack-lustre conducting to kill off Tchaikovsky's music.

I don't condemn the dancers for the faults of the performance; the ballet staff must primarily take the blame. And even if the production had to be mounted on the cheap (but why, when the Royal Opera has one premiere after another?) with hired décor, surely someone could have tried to straighten out the much remarked-on crumpled back-cloth in the intervening few months?

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