With all the theatre I see, I don’t have much time for ballets. I see them every once in a while but usually I’m like “this would be so much better if you were singing toooooo!” That’s why ‘An American in Paris’ is so good. And usually the plots are so alarmingly sexist that I just roll my eyes the entire time so as not to actually scream. I saw ‘Giselle’ last year the English National Opera. Do you know what that’s about? A peasant girl dies of a broken heart because her lover is a cheatin fool and then her ghost joins a ghost troop of all virgin girls who died before they were married and they dance/kill men who go through their forest. It’s forked up. Luckily, ‘Onegin’ is not actively offensive; in fact, it’s a pretty good tale of a woman actually standing up for herself, sort of, as much as you can expect in old-timey stories. More importantly, it’s the most gorgeous dancing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m including the ending of ‘Center Stage’ can you believe it? even the part where the camera pans down and then when it goes back up Jody is all of a sudden in a red leotard and she pushes everyone away and Jamiroquai goes ‘DANCE!’ and it’s the best. I was naively a little upset that the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow wasn’t playing something I was more familiar with while we were there, but I can’t imagine ‘Swan Lake’ or ‘The Nutcracker’ (now I’m out of ballets I know) being nearly as spectacular as ‘Onegin’ was. And since this week on the travel blog we are back in Russia, it’s time to talk about this Bolshoi production.
So John Cranko (no relation to Broadway director John Rando like of course not but their names speak to me in the same way now (maybe because if you change their last name o’s to e sounds they both become me)) created his magnificent ballet in 1965 for the Stuttgart Ballet. It was performed there in Germany and in London but not at the Bolshoi until like just a few years ago! What you fools been doing besides choosing presidents! Fortunately, they added it to their repertoire in time for my visit, and I got to see the Bolshoi ballet company perform something other than their speed-assisted craziness in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’. They are spectacular. I don’t know why Sergei wanted to leave Russia to dance in San Francisco with Galena when they both could have joined the Bolshoi. I guess for freedom. (by the way I am still talking about ‘Center Stage’, BME.)
‘Onegin’ tells…shows…dances? basically the same story as the novel, at least the main part. It tells the tale of a girl named Tatiana and this asshat of a man named Eugene Onegin, who does not have the right to be such a confident jerk especially to women when he is named Eugene. It opens with Tatiana and her sister Olga dance-playing and dance-sewing in the garden with their mother, talking girly, and then they decide to play a much-loved Russian game where girls look in a mirror to see fatalistic/magical glimpses of their future loves. They do this in ‘War & Peace’ too (or at least the version I know much more thoroughly, the musical ‘Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812’, when Sonya tells us “Early Sunday morning, Natasha and I lit a candle, looked in the mirror [‘meer’]” and then Natasha happily comments “I see my face!” because she is an IDIOT and Sonya rolls her eyes musically and explains to her stupid cousin “they say you can see your future in the long row of candles stretching back and back and back into the depths of the mirror [‘meer’]. In the dim confused last square, you’ll see a coffin or a man. Everyone sees a man.”). Ok so I know I didn’t really need to quote ‘Comet’ yet again but admit that that helps you understand what Tatiana and Olga were doing, right? I can go on if you want me to!
So Olga’s fiancé Lensky arrives (query why they were looking in the mirror for mystical peeks at future husbos if she already was engaged), an amiable, most happy fellow who seems decent. P.s., the ballerina playing Olga was maybe 11 years old, and Tatiana maybe 14, tops. I’m not sure whether to go with the headline ‘ballet stunts your growth like gymnastics and these were indeed adults’ or ‘Russians kidnap children and force-train them into incredible dancers, can we be mad or no.’ Anyway Lensky brought a friend: the dark, brooding, could-play-Heathcliff-if-he-wasn’t-such-a-good-dancer Eugene Onegin, who is dressed all in black because he’s so dark and brooding and the only thing he can do with his face besides look handsome is scoff. So the dancer playing Onegin looked just like Eric Bana from my mezzanine seat and I hundo p would have sworn it was him save for the dancing ability. Onegin looks around at the lovely little family’s love little garden and lovely little girls and he scoffs, he scoffs this way, he scoffs that way, he scoffs hither and thither. But little Tatiana thinks he’s the keenest because she never saw a city boy before, maybe, and thinks dressing in all black is a sign of sophistication. Or whatever. That night, she dance-writes a love letter to him.
This opening scene in the garden, plus the love letter writing that night, composed Act I. It was about 40 minutes long…and then we got a 25 minute intermission! 25 minutes! I could have peed 3 times.
Act II was only 30 minutes! Man alive I didn’t even have to pee after. While short, it packs a punch. It’s Tatiana’s birthday party, and Onegin comes, but he’s such a dink that he is rude to everyone and rolls his eyes the whole time at how simple these folk are and how unsophisticated and boring. Also, he is bothered by the fact that this sweet little girl wrote him a love letter. What a dink. So he goes up to Tatiana, the birthday girl, holds her letter out, and rips it up in front of her! I KNOW! He’s the worst! But he’s not done – to add some excitement to his inexplicable boredom (they’re at a fancy party with ballerinas!), he decides to provoke his friend Lensky by flirting with Olga, his fiancée. Olga is just a little 11-year-old ballerina so she dances with him just because she likes dancing and doesn’t think anything of it other than it would be fun and maybe funny. But Lensky is pisssssed, and he challenges Eugene to a duel. And Eugene Onegin becomes a murderer! He kills his friend Lensky! Why are men!
After that we had another 25 minute intermission. These intermissions were almost longer than the actual show! This show is perfect for those with short attention spans and/or quick bladders.
In Act III, (another half hour one), time has passed and now a grown-up Tatiana has married a prince. She a princess! They are throwing a ball at the palace, and Onegin is in attendance. He is enamored with this beautiful princess and realizes oh hot damn it’s that country girl I humiliated! He goes up to her and is like ‘hey it’s me Eugene!’ and he writes a love letter to her now. My how the tables have turned on this jackwagon. She asks not to see him but he comes to her room in the palace that night anyway because of course he doesn’t listen to other people’s desires, and he pleads his love for her and they do the most INCREDIBLE flying dancing I’ve ever seen. It’s sexual and violent and they dance out their feelings to the extreme and you never want it to end. Tatiana tries to resist him but he is so powerful and dark and brooding and you’re like Tatiana no resist resist! And just when you think she might give in she stops dancing and just POINTS OUT THE DOOR without looking at him and it’s amaaaaaaaaazing. It’s the best moment of any ballet, when this woman decides she is now strong enough to stand up for herself. I loved that it was also the first ballet I’ve seen where a woman fights her desires and does something right INSTEAD OF DYING. Seriously why does every ballet kill the young girl? Obviously sad men wrote all the stories. But not this one! No young girls died in this! Sure a nice young man did and that was sad but men should stop letting their anger get the best of them and stop starting duels! Haven’t they listened to Terry Crews?
Anyway, it was the most phenomenal ballet with the most beautiful performances from the principals: Vladislav Lantratov as Onegin, Olga Smirnova as Tatiana, Anastacia Vinokur as Olga, and Ivan Alexeev as Lensky. At least I think these are their names; the programme is in Cyrillic. If you go to Moscow, you need to see something at the Bolshoi. So spectacular. And if this ballet is performed somewhere closer to you, you should see it since the girl doesn’t die! What a treat!
To buy tickets, we had to sign up to the Bolshoi website. OMG I just looked and Onegin is on tonight!!! Ahhhh! Go! You can’t go! Anyway they send email confirmation which you need to bring to the box office, except the box office is very poorly signed and staffed so be ready for that. Kind of frustrating.
Just in case you thought maybe bad audiences only existed in the west (I don’t know why you would think that? people suck everywhere), the audience here was talking THE ENTIRE TIME. I got an usher at one point because this box near us was full of jerks who were talking at regular volume. I just cannot handle how bad audience behavior has become. Please don’t talk at the theatre (movie theatres count too) and please for the love of god put your phones away.
The bathrooms were the nicest in the entire country. The end.