Onegin: “Leave the ashes, what survives is gold.” *

P1050181ONEGUINE by John Cranko at the Palais Garnier in Paris
Tuesday, February 25: Amatriain, Paquette, Grinsztajn, Révillion
Wednesday, February 26: Albisson, Hoffalt, Barbeau, Révillion

This past week, anticipation of Isabelle Ciarvola’s farewell performance kind of sucked up the energy of many of us devoted spectators. But…

“The high that proved too high, the heroic for earth too hard,
The passion that left the ground to lose itself in the sky,
Are music sent up to God by the lover and the bard;
Enough that he heard it once: we shall hear it by-and-by.” [Robert Browning, Abt Vogler]

Other voices need to be heard too. And these two casts gave new music to us who live far beneath the sky, and new alchemies that spun distinct varieties of gold.

If Ciaravola used her body to transcribe long arcs of arias where you suddenly are convinced you hear the breeze sing along with her, then Alicia Armatriain (stepping in from Stuttgart for the injured Ludmila Pagliero) provided flickering and unexpectedly thunderous microclimates while Amandine Albisson embodied a luminous sky slowly darkening toward heavy rain. Each Tatiana, then, created her own kind of weather.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?” [Andrea del Sarto]


Alicia Amatriain and Karl Paquette as seen by Cléopold on the 4th of March

Armatriain belongs to the reckless tribe of Alina Cojocaru and Marcia Haydée, each only interested in sucking out the emotional nectar deep inside the combination of steps and shapes demanded by their choreographer. Even at the risk of awkwardness, they trust us in the audience be their camera, their mirror, their oxygen, their adrenaline. Our guest Tatiana can do beyond 6 o’clock, but when she does 190 degrees sideways – almost flattening Lensky – the intent, the urgency of why she has pounced upon him, has everything to do with entering into the emotional pitch of the moment.

Armatriain dances and acts her role as if she were a thoroughbred filly, tense and hyper-reactive. So changeable that two bad movies about Van Gogh came to mind: scenes of where the genius slaps blobs of color onto canvas seemingly arbitrarily but then suddenly we see the sky fill with stars. But a superb horse, like a superb painter, is always slightly unhinged: will he fly across the steppes or smack into a wall? That’s how scary and unpredictable her jumps into and out of Onegin’s arms – the reckless way she pushed up off of his hands! — could feel.

Find the scene in Nils Tavernier’s film “Etoiles” where, just before a performance of Doux Mensonges, Wilfried Romoli tries to rein in Celine Talon’s “ick-eek-eek!” response to one of those trickily calibrated lifts where Jiri Kylian seems to slyly honor to his mentor, John Cranko. Somehow last Thursday the opposite happened, and thus Paquette could concentrate on carving out his own Onegin. Armatriain’s abandon visibly freed him up to react to, not anticipate, all she threw at him: “Well, if she’s not afraid I’ll drop her then I’m gonna have fun here too!”

Here alchemy happened and Karl Paquette finally got a chance to stop being stereotyped as “Mr. Nice Guy Reliable Partner” and let fly. His Onegin grew in confidence and became lithe and loose and even greedy. Do you remember the enormous grin that crossed your face when you leapt onto the upper saddle of a see-saw, hoping to knock the other grinning kid sitting down at the ground way up in the air? That’s what their partnering kept feeling like (I mean the word “felt”: I caught myself twitch in response, and realized the person in front of me did as well).

The Letter/Dream scene took on a special flavor, as if this were partly Onegin’s dream too. As if it illustrated an epiphany. I sensed perhaps I was simultaneously witnessing Onegin’s first reaction to reading her letter. A bright electric flash of joy – “could this be something I could feel?” I could imagine his pulse thickening at soon as he started perusing her missive, briefly alive, until the moment he folded it up again and sighed “what might have been.” This duet, conceived to illustrate an interior monologue, became a dialogue.

Joy and release within reach, the “Spring Waters” Soviet-style crotch lift – and other lifts – that Cranko so tenderly re- appropriated  here seemed to really come out of nowhere and everywhere. James Tuggle, a most sensitive conductor who actually watches the stage throughout, sometimes gently stretches out the musical line to give his couples time to get into lift-off position. This night he didn’t have to, and accelerated.

Less chilly, Paquette’s Onegin had an eye for the women from the start. He reminded me that Pushkin makes Onegin tease Lensky: “if I were a poet, I’d have picked this one instead.” A slightly avuncular tinge also signaled the patronizing (and so cruel in its own way) speech with which he will return Tatiana’s letter in the original text. So, when haunted by the ghosts of women past, you could understand what he had thought he had seen in each will o’ the wisp that passed through his arms. And all the regrets of so many lives not lived to the full.

“Escape me?
Never – Beloved!
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth,
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.” [Life in a Love]

If, in my opinion, Hervé Moreau’s Onegin of the 23rd surely headed out to drown in the Neva, Paquette’s of the 25th will probably drink himself to death while savoring every single morsel of his memories. Josua Hoffalt’s Onegin of the 26th, on the contrary, will just shut himself away in darkened rooms and slowly – and most determinately — let himself starve and fade away, staring angrily at his own reflection.

“Best be yourself, imperial, plain and true!” [Bishop Blougram’s Apology]

The conductor James Tuggle, Albisson, Hoffalt, Barbeau and Révillion on February 26, 2014

The conductor James Tuggle, Albisson, Hoffalt, Barbeau and Révillion on February 26, 2014

For last Wednesday Hoffalt’s Tatiana, Amadine Albisson, seemed as milky and addictive as curds and whey. Here all the lines were pure and cleanly shaped, all the steps full out, but never wild. She’s too young to channel Rachel or Callas the way Ciaravola now knows, but she’s mature enough to trust herself. Thus, her simple – but not simplistic – approach to the role reminded me more of Romy Schneider’s hope-filled (but in no way saccharine) Sissi than the still and sad-eyed Elisabeth she would later learn to evoke for Visconti. Men have told me their eyes were somehow drawn to the nape of Schneider’s neck, as I was to the way Albisson arched hers.

She was up against some partner: Hoffalt, irritable and nervy as if he were fleeing more than boring St. Petersburg society. As if he had already killed someone and needed time – and not more annoyances – to figure it out why he still needed to be alive. His pure and plucked-taught lines grew out of the energy of the music (and one day he will learn to bring this same commitment to those Petipa princes) and meshed with Albisson’s.

“My sun sets to rise again” [At the ‘Mermaid’]

On both nights Fabien Révillion’s varied and apt attack, his rhythmic and assured punctuation of perfectly executed and extenuated steps all free of hops and bobbles, made me wonder where this youth-filled poet had been all my life. Steps are only, after all, metaphors for words. Perhaps Lensky has delved too deeply into the German Romantics, but this one filled out his steps and let us watch him grow from a boy into a man overnight. A goofy grin and fleet-footed gayety gave way to a wrenching solo on the eve of the duel where he too let go of the expected. This Lensky punched at the air with all the force in his body, tried to slap at the sky, and seemed to want to yell at his younger self for bringing on the fate bearing down on his body. Where Heymann begged succor from the moon, Révillion’s outstretched arms cursed it. Arching backwards, he seemed to understand how foolish he had been to only smile for so many wasted years before daring to kiss either Eve Grinsztajn’s bewitching or Marion Barbeau’s touchingly forthright and sunny Olga. Révillion’s and Barbeau’s lines, sense of weight, and complementary look bode for an adorable partnership. I hope to see them paired again in a ballet with a happy ending.

“Lo, life again knocked laughing at the door!
The world goes on, goes ever, in and through,
And out again o’ the cloud.” [Balaustion’s Adventure]

*“Leave the ashes, what survives is gold.”  is taken from Robert Browning’s  « Rabbi ben Ezra. »



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