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Lera AUERBACH(b. 1973) Tatiana A Ballet by John Neumeier,
after Alexander Puskin’s Eugene Onegin
Music commissioned by The Hamburg Ballet and The Hamburg State Opera
Tatiana Larina – Hélène Bouchet
Eugene Onegin – Edvin Revazov
Olga Larina – Leslie Heylmann
Vladimir Lensky – Alexandr Trusch
Prince N. – Carsten Jung
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg/Simon Hewett
Choreography, Staging, Sets, Costumes & Lighting: John Neumeier
Video direction: Thomas Grimm
rec. live, The Hamburg State Opera, Hamburg, Germany, 2014
Bonus: Tatiana – Back to Pushkin – a film by Reiner E. Moritz [34:00]
Subtitles - Bonus only: English, German, French & Japanese
Sound: PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Regions: All C MAJOR Blu-ray 737504 [169:00]
The ballet Tatiana, created by John Neumeier, is based on Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse Eugene Onegin and named after its female lead character – Tatiana Larina. Pushkin (1799-1837) took several years to write and complete Eugene Onegin. He began it in 1823 but finished it only in 1832, which may well be the reason why the novel appeared first in serial form rather than as a whole work. The full novel was published for the first time in 1833. Eugene Onegin is a classic of Russian literature and also the first true depiction of Russian society. Pushkin’s novel has inspired many works in various art forms of which the most famous must be Tchaikovsky’s opera of the same name and John Cranko’s ballet Onegin.
John Neumeier is an award winning choreographer born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the United States, though he has worked for most of his life in Germany and is the artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet. After his early dance training in Milwaukee, he studied ballet both in Copenhagen and at the Royal Ballet School, in London. He was always interested in other subjects and so also obtained a BA in English Literature and Theatre Studies from Marquette University in Wisconsin. In 1963, the great ballerina Marcia Haydée met him in London and this meeting eventually led to John Cranko (1927-1973) engaging Neumeier to dance at the Stuttgart Ballet. It was here that under the inspiring hand of Cranko, Neumeier created his first choreographies. He was so successful that in 1969 he was appointed director of ballet in Frankfurt where he soon became a sensation. His fame comes not only from his interpretations of such celebrated ballets as The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet or Daphne and Chloe but also from his very original creations such as choreographing “non-balletic” pieces, like Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion or some of Mahler’s symphonies. He also invented a variety of wonderful narrative ballets, of which the most famous are probably La Dame aux Camélias, Sylvia and his adaptations of works by Shakespeare. In 1973, John Neumeier became chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet and in 1996 its artistic director, a post he holds to the present day.
For Tatiana Neumeier returned to Pushkin’s original novel and agreeing with Dostoyevsky – who famously said that Pushkin should have named the novel Tatiana Larina because she is the true heroine – he named his ballet Tatiana instead of Onegin. In the rather interesting bonus film (included in this Blu-ray) Neumeier is asked whether Cranko’s ballet Onegin from 1965 (created for the Stuttgart Ballet) in any way influenced Tatiana. However Neumeier distances himself and states that although he was with him when Cranko produced his Onegin – he had never thought of recreating a theme that Cranko had worked with. And in fact, Tatiana is very different from Cranko’s work. Neumeier explains that his starting point was a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera in Salzburg by Andrea Breth. She set the story in the 1980s and that, says Neumeier, opened a door for him and for a universal conflict. And so with Tatiana, Neumeier creates a new world in which the well-known characters carry out their story. In returning to the original novel, he also used the dream sequences Pushkin created, especially the one in chapter 5 in the novel, involving the bear that Tatiana at first fears but that in the end protects her. The only change he maskes in relation to the original is that he makes Lensky a composer rather than a poet. Asked about it in the bonus film, he states that ballet is a visual art and a poet is not very useful for that sort of thing. A composer is more visual and in putting Lensky at the piano in the beginning, in his own words, it is almost as if Lensky was composing the music for the ballet itself.
The music for Tatiana was especially commissioned by the Hamburg Ballet and Hamburg State Opera. The composer chosen was Lera Auerbach with whom Neumeier had worked closely before. She wrote the music for his ballet based on Hans-Christian Andersen’s story of The Little Mermaid. There appears to be a good rapport between composer and choreographer and the result is a very fluid, dramatic and almost cinematic narrative ballet. Auerbach’s music has some outstanding moments, as for example the dream sequences, which are almost psychedelic, thus enhancing Tatiana’s dreams and linking them with the dream world she lives in where she imagines her life as that of the characters of the novels she reads all the time. The most dramatic scenes – Onegin’s rejection and ridiculing of Tatiana’s letter of love, the duel when he shoots and kills Lensky and the final scene when the passion between Onegin and Tatiana is unleashed but she shows her strength and resolve by rejecting him – find their full expression in the choreography and are powerfully echoed in the music. On the other hand, in some episodes, like part of the ball scene when Tatiana and Onegin meet again years later, I found the music almost intrusive and unrelated to the narrative. Having said that, the moment when Tatiana dances with Onegin is in the rhythm of a tango, which I thought was a good idea as a way of expressing the passion.
Neumeier’s choreography and interpretation of the story are, as ever, very original and very much his own. He manages to give a fresh, different and compelling take to a story that has been told many times. His choreography is always based on a pure classical line but with many unusual, contemporary movements that at times reminded me of Martha Graham and Hans van Manen at their best. The cast is excellent and especially the two leads are very expressive and often virtuosic. Tatiana is danced by French ballerina Hélène Bouchet – principal of the Hamburg Ballet since 2005. She is a slender, fragile looking dancer but dramatically very expressive and displaying an outstanding technique. Her Tatiana is very poignant when depicting the inner struggle, sweet and delicate when dreaming of love and writing the letter to Onegin in which she declares her love for him. But Bouchet is an extraordinary artist and her character’s passion, determination and integrity also come across beautifully. Onegin is danced by charismatic and handsome Ukrainian dancer Edvin Revazov. He is tall, sexy and cuts an extremely elegant figure on stage. His presence is almost magnetic, supported by great dramatic power and an assured, excellent technique. He had his long blonde hair cut off fpr the role; in fact he shaved his head in order to comply with Neumeier’s vision of Onegin – sensual, gloomy, indifferent but also enigmatic and distant. I must admit that the shaved head does contribute to this persona and is more effective than if he’d appeared with his lovely blonde hair, looking more like Romeo than a brooding Onegin who is bored with his life. Lensky is also extremely well danced by young Ukrainian dancer Alexandr Trusch who is very effective and believable as the slightly dishevelled composer, full of passion and vitality. Olga, his fiancée, is convincingly portrayed as the flirty, thoughtless Tatiana’s sister by Brazilian Leslie Heylmann. All other minor roles, including the characters from the novels Tatiana reads, are effectively danced by various dancers from the Hamburg Ballet and the company comes across as really very mature artistically, fully in tune with Neumeier and with an array of outstanding dancers. The Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg, under the baton of Australian conductor Simon Hewett, give a solid interpretation of Auerbach’s score and effectively support the dancers.
With Tatiana, Neumeier is a one man show and the only thing he doesn’t do is dance a role himself. Otherwise, he created not only the choreography but also the staging, sets, costumes and lighting. At 74 he shows no signs of slowing down and it is a treat to watch the bonus film and hear him talk about the creative process for Tatiana as well as listening to the dancers describe their work with him. It is engaging stuff and provides a fascinating insight into the man and his work.
My first experience of John Neumeier’s originality was with a performance of his very own interpretation of an old classic The Nutcracker in the mid-80s at the Munich Opera House. It stayed with me ever since. I never forgot the choreographer’s name or the very special scene of the dance teacher Drosselmeyer (then danced by Neumeier himself) with his star pupil. It was memorable and no other Nutcracker before or since has had the same effect on me. Tatiana is perhaps not quite in the same league but it is a typical Neumeier work, which means it is beautiful, different, powerful, with characters full of depth, emotion and humanity. I truly enjoyed it and recommend it. Whether you know Neumeier and Pushkin or not is unimportant; this is an outstanding ballet and it can also serve as an introduction to both the choreographer and the author.