There's never enough time in the day, it seems sometimes (for example, I wrote most of this in my lunch hour but have had to save it & finish it after work). Yesterday in my lunch break I had meant to write about my first ballet outing of the season, the Royal Ballet production of Cranko's "Onegin"; and about gardening, and about the Muse having popped up and given me a wee nudge which may, just may, develop into something interesting. But I didn't have much time after picking up calls because it was busy, and then I got sidetracked into writing a hymn to the beauty of the Wetland Centre. Which is beautiful (and I'm happy to promote it - I don't feel obligated to avoid mentioning other west London visitor attractions just because I work at one) but my glorious Sunday afternoon there was not my whole weekend by any means.
"Onegin", on Friday evening, was terrific. Although they've had it in their repertoire for eight or ten years the Royal Ballet don't do it very often for some reason. Perhaps it doesn't put bums on seats the way "Romeo and Juliet" does, and the big nineteenth century classics obviously do. Also, unlike most of these, it doesn't have many of those juicy bit parts that give soloists a chance to step up and shine briefly. It does need five strong dancers who can not only dance but also act, though. With the best will in the world, some of the RBs current principals (naming no names!) can't act for toffee. Luckily I got some who could.
The plot of the ballet follows the opera fairly closely (I've never read the original Pushkin poem, so can't comment on how closely either adaptation resembles it). But it is such an eternal and human story that it bears repetition and re-rendering in different genres. A naive girl falls catastrophically in love with a man who isn't interested in her. Years later, they meet again and he realises what a fool he was to reject her love. He appeals to her, only for her to reject him this time. There's also an even more tragic secondary plot about her sister and his friend, whose lives are destroyed as a result of this primary plot situation. It's all pretty emotional stuff.
I was incredibly touched by the Tatiana of Laura Morera; she may not have the fame, or perhaps quite the diamond technique, of Alina Cojocaru, but her acting is if anything even more nuanced. Watching her grave, quiet face slowly come alive as she succumbs to the fascination of the attractive stranger, and her tight, reined-in desperation in the Act 2 party scene, when she has to put on a social face in front of the man who has broken her heart, my usual identification with the character moved up several notches. I am Tatiana (as poor Tchaikovsky said at one point) - I've been there, I know exactly what she is going through, and my heart bleeds for her every time I see this story. And it's quite an achievement, incidentally, to be so credibly gauche at the beginning while still dancing superbly. I've also never seen the tenderness in the pas de deax with Prince Gremin come across so strongly, or the absolute agony of the final duet with Onegin. I didn't expect it, but I think I have now found my definitive Tatiana. She was wonderful.
It was good, too, to see Federico Bonelli get his teeth into something with a bit of dramatic potential. I've previously seen him either in abstract work or in pieces where he plays the Handsome Prince and has nothing to do except look gorgeous and rise above his wig (I'm thinking "Nutcracker" here), and partner the ballerina beautifully. Given a part that requires him to do more, he seized the opportunity; he is a lovely dancer, clean and smooth and strong, and I now know he is also a very capable actor. That pirouette-ending-in-a-stamp move just before the duel in Act 2 scene 2 can look silly - or creepily childish - here it was a real outburst of bodily fury. He managed to convey both Onegin's charm and attractiveness to Tatiana and at the same time the self-absorption that she is too infatuated to see.
Part of the way through the letter scene someone in the audience began to shout and scream (apparently it was a woman whose husband had been taken ill); although the noise must have been deeply disruptive to their concentration, both leads carried on their duet with admirable aplomb. Bravo to both for that, too.
Olga was danced by Melissa Hamilton, and she was a delight. Each time I see her in action she seems to grow, both technically as a dancer and in stature and feeling as a dramatic performer. Luckily not physically, though - she's on the tall side to begin with. But her fresh beauty and her youth and enthusiasm suited Olga beautifully, and I was struck by the way that at Lensky's death, instead of the regular ballet-swoon posture, she really collapsed to the stage, then slowly curled into a foetal position - it was painfully realistic.
Her Lensky was my one doubt; Sergei Polunin is technically terrific, but I found him rather uncertain dramatically. He just didn't really seem to be as emotionally involved as the other three principals. By gum, he can't half dance, though. Very ornamental, too, especially if you like a fella with cheekbones! Still, on the ornamental front, I'll take Prince Gremin - my favourite, Gary Avis, giving his usual superbly nuanced and detailed performance and looking thoroughly noble in uniform.
The other main activity of the weekend, apart from that blissful afternoon at the Wetland Centre, was planting about 300 spring bulbs in the garden, and taking down the bean bines. Apart from pruning and tidying, that is my main autumn garden jobs done. I found about fifteen fat, woody, over-ripe bean pods, enough to get plenty of seeds for next year and hopefully some spare to share with friends (so let me know if you want to take up growing climbing French beans).
The Muse resurfaced briefly and has left a little idea fomenting in my brain. It's an opening line. A single sentence; but I can see where it leads (= to something running to three volumes or more) and I'm not sure I feel strong enough. I thought I had worked the urge to write multiple-volume heavy-duty fantasy novels out of my system as an adolescent, and it feels a bit strange to have one coming to a simmer like this.
It fascinates me, when I step back and detach from worrying about the actual creative activity itself, how many ideas my brain is capable of storing on the back-burner at once. Well over thirty ideas are sitting there biding their time; novels, drawing and painting projects, even a couple of arty videos I'd like to make. And I talk about there not being enough time in the day already! It's alarming, and bizarre.
And then I end up, as I did last night, putting the tele on, channel hopping and finding a good movie - "Aeon Flux" - on Film Four, and just sitting on my btm allowing myself to be entertained. I gather that if you were a fan of the animated original show or the computer game version of "Aeon Flux" it is considered correct to loathe the film. I'm not, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It looked great (and isn't overloaded with CGI effects, which is refreshing in a contemporary SF film); the script wasn't too bad and the basic ideas were actually quite good; it has lovely strong capable women characters and plenty of eye candy for everyone (Charlize Theron and Sophie Okonedo, both periodically with not many clothes on, as a splendid team of female assassins; Marton Csokas looking rumpled and sexy as a troubled dictator) and it's very well acted. It's just a pity about the main characters' names. To me, "flux" is a slightly archaic term for dysentery; and no-one, surely, can take entirely seriously a dictator called Trevor...
I can't reject letting myself be entertained; films like this leave me with mental images that go into all those metaphorical pots on the back of the stove of my creative mind, and meld their juices together (what a terrible extended mixed metaphor!). And it was good fun, anyway.
Royal Ballet Triple Bill: a photo gallery
2 days ago