Opera House, Hamburg, Germany; July 10, 2014

Maggie Foyer

Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier's 'Tatjana'.  Photo © Holger Badekow

Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier’s ‘Tatjana’.
Photo © Holger Badekow

John Neumeier’s latest creation, “Tatjana” is less a narrative than a psychological study of the principal characters played out in dance drama. It is only loosely anchored in the timeline and narrative of Pushkin’s poem but rich in detailed vignettes. The crucial duel recurs in different settings, including memories and dreams, and dead characters reappear as they resurface in the memory of the living. Tatjana’s affection for her toy bear is transposed to Onegin’s fur coat and her world of romantic fiction becomes a greyscale reality as the characters, either amiable or nightmarish, dance around her.

Although titled “Tatjana” the first act is dominated by Onegin, played by Edvin Revazov. But this is the way of the world – the devil always gets the best tunes! An almost saturnine character, tall and imposing with his blonde hair hidden under a bald cap, he has few saving graces. He is given a dissolute past as he flirts thoughtlessly and eyes the dancing girls at the ballet in a deliciously outmoded rendition of “Cleopatra” filled with pseudo-Egyptian posturing. Only in the final minutes does he break down in a fit of anguish but like Faustus his repentance comes too late; midnight has chimed for him. His Tatjana sits aloof and distant and he runs off in despair.

Edvin Revazov’s dancing was powerful and expressive but his sinister appearance makes it difficult to understand why Tatjana, Hélène Bouchet, should fall so deeply in love. But history is littered with tales of good women falling for the wrong man and Tatjana seems to fall more completely and utterly than a lesser woman would. Bouchet is Tatjana, a vulnerable girl bursting with love who matures into a gracious and aristocratic wife. To see her stretch her arched foot is alone worth the admission price and in this role she gives her all.

In the second act she comes to prominence. In the pas de deux with Prince N, (Carsten Jung) her white gown and diamond necklace set just the right balance of dignity and glamour. Neumeier’s choreography precisely portrays their warm and trusting relationship with Jung’s skilful partnering giving only the lightest of touch, guiding and never controlling, in fluid expressive movements. The contrast in her final complex duet with Onegin proves Boucher a great dance actress. The awakening of past emotions and the ill-fated history of their relationship all colour the gestures and lifts to make their confrontation as tense as a psychological thriller.

Hamburg Ballet in 'Tatjana'. Photo © Holger Badekow

Hamburg Ballet in ‘Tatjana’.
Photo © Holger Badekow

Olga and Lensky, less complex in their relationship provide the sunshine; in dance that is young and fresh. Olga, Leslie Heylmann, a dancer who never fails to impress was more fickle than she is usually portrayed, finding herself a new man on the rebound. Alexandr Trusch played Lensky, here a composer, as a dreamer and idealist in choreography that eloquently captured his mood.

Sadly, the music from Lera Auerbach, was less than inspiring, adding neither the Russian flavour hinted at in the costumes and folk dance nor relating to the passion of the drama. Too often it signalled the approach of trouble in the unsubtle manner of a silent movie score. I longed for a melodic line to touch the heart and match the outpouring of love on the stage.  The designs, also by Neumeier, offered a front cloth of icy mist and birch trees and country scenes effective in their simplicity while the interiors contrasted with bourgeois brashness. The ballet has much to offer and most of all two leading roles of dramatic and technical complexity to make them endlessly satisfying both for dancers and audience.