Diana Vishneva in John Neumeiers Tatjana Photo Oleg Chernous

Diana Vishneva in John Neumeiers Tatjana
Photo Oleg Chernous

Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg Staatsoper
July 2, 2015

Joy Wang X.Y

Eugene Onegin, the verse-novel, has held much fascination for choreographers both from its native land and outside, the most famous version being John Cranko’s 1956 ballet. John Neumeier in a ‘personal reading’, something he stressed to the press from Russia where Pushkin’s text is considered sacred (the ballet co-premiered at the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow), is the latest to tackle its themes of duty, honor, passion. Tatjana is a reading that favors its heroine and the ballet bears her name. And so although it is not, perhaps, Neumeier’s finest work it does offer a substantial role for its female lead.

Guesting with the Hamburg Ballet, Diana Vishneva’s liquid eyes peer out of a billowing cascade of waist-length raven hair, possesing the sort of savage beauty that lies at the heart of the ballet’s gothic fascination. Neumeier’s Tatjana is by turns wild, sad, even lonely. Vishneva’s trance-like quality of movement is the perfect conduit for his liminal world. Fictitious imaginings frame the ballet which starts with Tatjana in an extended dream sequence where time, place, people are juxtaposed. The device allows Tatjana to escape the pressure of realism thus highlighting the ballet’s poetic undertones. But the ordered chaos of interweaving subplots and timeframes sometimes confuses rather than clarifies.

Vishneva dances most of the role in a fevered state, the ghoulish ecstasy of her dance and the sinuous wilderness of her limbs suggesting in one intoxicating mix both the animus and the noble. The letter or dream scene in which Onegin comes to Tatjana in the form of a bear, almost feels like a sexual bildungsroman, the coming of age via a primal fantasy. Vishneva also makes compelling work out of the mature Tatjana showing us how a woman suspended between the reaches of an impossible, destructive passion and the embrace of a gentler, domesticated love finds the courage and the strength to deny her own illogical heart. That nightmares and dreams walk the same hunted alley its indeterminacy suggesting both possibility and loss, is an idea that permeates her reading.

Diana Vishneva und Alexey Lyubimov in Tatjana Photo Oleg Chernous

Diana Vishneva und Alexey Lyubimov in Tatjana
Photo Oleg Chernous

Onegin’s role is somewhat less well-explored. He is, largely, a dark force ripping through the ballet with unexplained Machiavellian anger, just a little too vacantly Faustian to explain Tatjana adoration or to make his repentance convincing. With his shaven head, Neumeier’s Onegin is a more macho presence than the brooding lyric Pushkin envisioned, but as a dancer, Edwin Revazov’s long, elegant lines feels closer to Pushkin’s original.

The second scene which takes us through Onegin’s day is lot of hectic nothingness, though perhaps that was the point; his vacuity contrasting with Lensky’s heightened purposefulness. A few acts of bored, random kindness then seals the relationship between the four protagonists. Olga, danced by the beautiful Leslie Heylmann, is less pretentious minx than naïve schoolgirl and Alexandr Trusch’s Lensky, who here is a composer rather than a poet, is impetuous, romantically heroic. Throughout it all two sentinel figures, clad in black and depicting fate, drive the ballet to its conclusion.

With its starry cast and rotating sets Tatjana is theatrically impressive as is Lera Auberach score which is more emotional than moving. There are intimate tender moments particularly from Tatania’s interactions with her nanny; but such subtle shadings are uncommon and so Neumeier’s Tatjana often feels just a little too Freudian.