ABT’s Eugene Onegin

I saw ABT’s reproduction of John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin yesterday after catching sight of an ad for it on the NY Times website. Given past experiences I should know to stick away from narrative pieces of Romantic stories, but I am still fascinated by all things Pushkin, and couldn’t resist the chance to swim with the older Russian crowd on a Wednesday Matinee.

As for the ballet itself, I mostly agreed with Alistair Macaulay’s review from the Times;[1] the production was a bit confused, thanks in part to the fact that the novel and character of Onegin are thoroughly literary, and so much be extremely difficult to stage (there was a translucent screen in front of the stage in which 19th-century looking writing was projected; I couldn’t tell if it was an actual manuscript edition of Pushkin’s). But while I can applaud Cranko’s daring in his source material, that doesn’t mean that the production was all that good, and I’d have been better served by something that depended less on the specific literary tastes and expectations of the crowd (from what I could tell there were a good number of Russian-speakers in the crowd).

The upshot of the whole thing is that I went to a show that I didn’t enjoy because I was hedging my bets about the reasons I would like a particular ballet. From its perspective, ABT wanted good attendance and put on Cranko’s Onegin, an uncomfortable shoehorning of a literary narrative into ballet slipper, so that culturally aware non-attenders[2] like me would shell out 55 USD for a matinee ballet. The lesson is that I could stand to have a little more faith in ballet; even if I am not rewarded by being blown away, I stand to get a little more out of it.

[1] Though I will comment on one aspect of his review that I found notable; his conceit is that the dancers’ various traits are more appealing than the choreography itself. This implies that he’s writing for a pretty select crowd, one that either A) would have the time and money to watch two or more performances to compare the dancers’ performances or B) be familiar enough with the company that you’d arrange to see one particular dancer over another. In either case Macaulay is writing for a select community, and not doing much to expand the pool of ballet-goers.

[2] I came across the term culturally aware non attenders in Alex Ross’s writing about classical music—if you could tell a Balanchine apart from a Merce Cunningham but haven’t been to a ballet in over a year, you’re aCANA.

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