John Cranko’s Onéguine by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Palais Garnier, Feb 14, 2018
For years now, the tall and dark Audric Bezard, with his high cheekbones and furrowed brow, has been typecast as “the other guy,” “the tall guy,” “the bad guy.” It’s time to put a stop to this. This has been going on for so long that I, like everyone else, came into the Palais Garnier on February 14th expecting a spine-chillingly vulpine and vampiristic Onegin along the lines of Rex Harrington. Nyet!
Instead, I witnessed the very incarnation of a complex human being constructed in such a manner that you only finally “get it” at the end: Bezard’s interpretation suggests that the whole story might have been fabricated from his own dreams and nightmares, or even that dream and reality were reversed.
So I must start with Act Three.
In this haunted and haunting portrayal, Onegin appears back in Saint Petersburg still in shock. His clear alarm when he looks up and sees Tatiana is clearly tied to the last time they saw each other. You wonder whether the pistol he used to kill Lensky isn’t lurking in the cloakroom, impatient to finish the job.
As he hallucinates that all the women in the ballroom are the ghosts of former conquests, now completely indifferent to him, Bezard really gave in to letting himself be pushed and pulled in a manner that made it clear that the women were leading the dance. He accepted their punishment in a manner that reminded me of his unusually subtle and sympathetic Hilarion from a while back .
This time, when he lifted hand to brow, slowly walking toward stage left as in Act One, he was clearly no longer posing (if he ever had). Not “ah, poor me” but “oh god I can’t stand this.” He was broken, desperate to find even a single person to forgive him for all the mistakes he has made.
His biggest mistake? Not listening to the little voice in Act One that said “this girl has something. She’s docile, good-humored, maidenly, a very pretty and graceful young woman. Every teenager reads romantic novels. But this one actually seems to be intelligent. She’ll grow out of it.”
Bezard’s approach to the young Tatiana during their walk in the garden almost made you feel as if she were a figment of his imagination. Dorothée Gilbert’s pensive and subdued portrayal furthered this vision. She always seemed lighter than a feather, ready slip out of his arms and float away. Bezard partnered her with utmost care. Each time he lifted her he so carefully returned her to the ground that the movement seemed to be in slow-motion. They were both, then, as if caught up in their own daydreams.
When Bezard’s Onegin solemnly entered Tatiana’s bedroom in Scene 2 of Act I, he seemed not only to be in a dream, but perhaps having one of himself as a tender Romeo. A “what could be” that will later torture him as a “what might have been” dream.
That you are not quite sure whose dream is happening here will be reinforced at the end, as Bezard in particular makes the echoes of steps, combinations, and images of the first « dream pas de deux » stand out sharply. This Onegin clearly recalls every single detail of what had gone on in her bedroom three years ago. This leads to another surprising thought: not only could Tatiana’s dream have been his, but…maybe he had really been there in the flesh after all? I find this improbability quite tantalizing.
As Prince Gremin, the husband Tatiana has finally settled for, Florian Magnenet calibrated his interpretation in light of this very pensive and poised Tatania, whose thoughts always seemed to be elsewhere. As opposed to his rapport with Pagliero’s Tatania on the 13th, something about the way he was too careful in embracing and partnering Gilbert, made you realize that this wife of his had not told him everything and remains a bit of a mystery. But what man wants to be told to his face that his wife has felt passion only once in her life, and not with him? Better let sleeping dogs lie.
Gilbert shyly kept her eyes almost completely on the ground during her pas de deux with Gremin. She only lifted them to gaze at her husband and smile dutifully during that sequence where their arms interlace as she is on one knee before him. She submits, rather than loves. Wears the dresses, but doesn’t quite believe in her role as “queen of society.” You therefore understand Gremin’s genuine surprise and confusion when later Tatiana abruptly kisses him with passion in an attempt to make him stay. With Pagliero, Magnenet’s body language said “I trust you, I’m proud of you. You will be fine. Don’t despair, my love.” With Gilbert, “I am sorry to see you are not quite well, my dear, but I must go now. We’ll talk later, perhaps?”
As the ballet hurtles towards its end, Bezard rushed in, only to stop dead in his tracks. Gilbert seemed to have been turned into marble by the letter on her desk. Her frozen stillness made you wonder whether she was still breathing. She, too, was in as much pain as Onegin. She is still that good girl. Writing one love letter three years ago had been her first and last moment of élan, of independent action, of breaking the rules. Both seemed to be thinking of the main result of her one moment of spontaneity: not the broken dreams of the living, but the lost future of her sister’s fiancé, dead.
This Onegin had not returned in order to take a mistress, or ask Tatiana to do an Anna Karenina. Reduced to crawling and crumpling, Bezard radiated a desire for something deeper and more elusive: absolution. He also made it clear that he knew how this dream would end. I have rarely felt so sorry for an Onegin.
For years, Bezard has been in splendid shape as far as ballet technique goes and has repeatedly demonstrated he knows how to act, not merely let his features brood. It’s time to move him out of Manon’s brother and into the skin of Des Grieux, to let him trade in Hilarion for Albrecht, to let him die like Romeo instead of Tybalt, most of all, finally release him from the endless purgatory of Petipa’s Spanish dances.
“I Can Dream, Can’t I” by the Andrews Sisters in 1949
I can see, no matter how near you’ll be
You’ll never belong to me
But I can dream, can’t I?
Can’t I pretend that I’m locked in the bend of your embrace
For dreams are just like wine and I am drunk with mine
I’m aware my heart is a sad affair
There’s much dis-illusion there
But I can dream, can’t I?
Can I adore you although we are oceans apart?
I can’t make you open your heart
But I can dream, can’t I?