Onegin, Royal Opera House, London

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The Royal Ballet's Onegin is essentially a weak piece which is splendidly danced. John Cranko's production, which was made for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965, takes its plot from Pushkin's verse novel and from the opera by Tchaikovsky. Cranko tells his story clearly, with rich production values and hefty roles for four principals which have made his ballet an international success.

The Royal Ballet's Onegin is essentially a weak piece which is splendidly danced. John Cranko's production, which was made for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965, takes its plot from Pushkin's verse novel and from the opera by Tchaikovsky. Cranko tells his story clearly, with rich production values and hefty roles for four principals which have made his ballet an international success.

What's missing is the story's depth, its psychological understanding. It's left to the leads to compensate. Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru were on superb form while Caroline Duprot and Federico Bonelli made fine debuts.

Cranko's theme is romance, but he sentimentalises his story's romanticism. This Tatiana and Onegin wrestle through acrobatic pas de deux, but there's little to suggest their desire for the unattainable. Tatiana, after all, falls for Onegin because he's a Byronic stranger. Years later, Onegin regrets his rejection of her when he finds she has become an elegant married woman.

Cranko suggests his heroine's idealism by giving her a book to clutch for most of the first scene. She hardly dances before Onegin appears, so it's up to the ballerina to suggest her yearnings. As Tatiana, Alina Cojocaru reads that book with avid attention, then slides off into daydreams. She keeps her line soft, but adds an eager attack. Her Tatiana has moments of youthful self-consciousness but new waves of feeling carry her on. That headlong emotion works well in this ballet. Cranko tells his story through duets, and his pas de deux are all lifts, women swung and hurled by their partners. Cojocaru's freedom of movement adds dramatic force to her recklessness. It also carries her through Cranko's musical awkwardness. He keeps patching those lifts over changes in musical direction, coming up short against his music's rhythms. Kurt-Heinz Stolze's score, a Tchaikovsky patchwork, was made for Cranko but it's heavily unsatisfactory. There's nothing to match the opera's irresistible dance numbers.

Johan Kobborg puts all his dramatic authority into Onegin, and his dancing is marvellous. The line is fluent and richly textured; the footwork is clean-cut. Cranko leaves most of the virtuoso dancing to his male dancers. The solos are lyrical, demanding clear line, but they include any number of jumps and turns. When Onegin despairs, Cranko has him spin on the spot, slow down to beat his fists against the air, then keep turning. It's a silly step, but what execution! Kobborg spun triple and quadruple turns, all perfectly steady and smoothly phrased. As he punches the air, he half-bows his head, then lifts it, mood changing from anger to grief, then to resolution.

The ballet's junior couple - danced by Caroline and Duprot Federico Bonelli - have to go from carefree cheerfulness to jealousy and despair. Tatiana's sister Olga is engaged to Lensky, Onegin's friend. Onegin flirts with her, provoking a duel in which Lensky is killed. Caroline Duprot was blithe and clear in her early scenes, with sharp footwork and an assured stage presence. In the second act, she moves easily from flirtation to coquettishness, and on to hysteria. Federico Bonelli was a lyrical Lensky, elegantly secure in those difficult solos.

Cranko focuses almost exclusively on his principals, without much attention to the supporting cast or the corps. Bennet Gartside, Genesia Rosato and Vanessa Palmer were all impressive in smaller roles; the corps danced brightly. This was an accomplished performance all round.

To 30 June (020-7304 4000)

There will be a big-screen performance of 'Onegin' with Cojocaru/ Kobborg/ Duprot/Bonelli/Gartside on 17 June at 7.30pm, relayed to Victoria Park, Bethnal Green, London E2, and, for the first time, Trafalgar Square, central London

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