You know a world-class ballet company when you see one. From start to finish, every member of the renowned Stuttgart Ballet performed with a palpable exuberance that lit up the Esplanade Theatre. Coupled with the elaborate costumes and resplendent set, dance lovers at last Saturday's 8 pm performance were treated to a rapturous night of graceful ballet.
Based on an Alexander Pushkin poem, Onegin tells the story of an arrogant man who refuses the love of a naive village girl, only to realise much later that it is his biggest mistake.
When village girl Tatiana gets married off to Prince Gremin, her new life begins and she quickly moves past her disappointing episode of unreciprocated love with Onegin. Some time later, Onegin is invited to a ball where he spots a beautifully grown-up and stately Tatiana who is now wedded to the prince. He regrets not holding on to her before. But it is all too late.
This tale of unrequited love was played out expertly by the company. John Cranko's choreography was full-bodied, swift and generous, making it one of the ballet's most appealing aspects. Even though its structure was traditional, it was still relevant to contemporary times. There was a good balance of dance and drama, and at no time did the pacing slip.
It was obvious that Cranko's forte is speed and partner work. Throughout the performance, the entire company showed nifty footwork and spritely jumps.
Female dancers were tossed gracefully in the air as group dances meandered around ingenious choreographic floor patterns. Duets by the main characters displayed a swift exuberance that was very physical in nature. Countless times, the female dancers were swung out of their partners' centre in a series of powerful twirls, spins and jumps. Yet, grace was still maintained.
The highlight of the evening had to be the main characters, Onegin and Tatiana, danced last Friday evening by Jason Reilly and Anna Osadcenko. Emotions seemed to rise from deep within the performers and never did they seem exaggerated.
In each of the three acts, Onegin and Tatiana danced a duet that played out the different stages of their emotional tussles. Each of these duets was subtly nuanced and one witnessed the development of a strained relationship so clearly because of the clever choreography.
Reilly brought out the pompous nature of Onegin with his haughty poise. His leaps were clean, his poses statuesque and his arabesque positions showed off his long limbs that seemed to extend for miles.
Even more impressive was Osadcenko, who debuted in the role of Tatiana. Like anyone doing something for the first time, it was obvious that she was giving her best during the entire performance. She danced with a power that was strong yet muted. But at the same time, she did not hold back when it came to the more emotionally tragic scenes.
During these scenes, her anguish was obvious and her gestures became wilder as the upright carriage of the typical balletic body was unlocked in a series of huffs and puffs. This was a refreshingly contemporary approach and it felt honest.
Her jumps were expansive and her lines were impeccable. Cabrioles were deft yet delicate and her upper body was expressive.
From the young village girl at the beginning of the performance to the stately wife of Prince Gremin, Osadcenko handled the character development very well, culminating in a beautiful duet danced with the prince in act three. It was in this duet that we saw her transformation into a gorgeous woman.
This was a refreshing full-length ballet. While there are indeed numerous qualities to other well-known fairy-tale classics such as Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, Onegin's themes are present in our lives. We see the flaws in each character so often in reality, and love in the real world is often not clear cut, as Onegin's plot showed.
The twists and turns kept viewers in suspense and the pace of the ballet moved at an engaging speed. The beauty of Onegin was that, within the glamour of the balletic setting, there lay a tragic truth that many are familiar with.
Lee Mun Wai is a founding member of T.H.E. Dance Company. He received the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council this year and was trained in contemporary dance at Lasalle College of the Arts and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.