Deborah Colker's adaptation of Pushkin's tale is an expectations-defying piece from the master choreographer
Award-winning Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker is well known for surprising her audiences. Over the past decade, she has used a giant spinning wheel, a climbing wall and a hundred ropes to create innovative, gravity defying performances.
However, just as her admirers started getting used to her love for experimenting, she has managed to surprise them once again. This time, Colker has turned to 19th century classic novel Eugene Onegin, written by Russian author Alexander Pushkin.
It is the story of an innocent country girl, Tatyana who falls in love with the dandy Onegin. He rejects her love, but years later the tables turn, and Tatyana, married at this point, rejects Eugene and stays true to her values. There are four dancers for each of the four characters in the production: Onegin, Tatyana, her sister Olga and the poet Lensky. Pushkin and Colker herself appear on stage as narrators, directing the characters’ actions and fates.
Tatyana is outside any specific time and location; it is neither 19th century Russia nor modern Brazil. Everything in the production works to create this sense of timelessness and universality, starting from minimalist costumes and ending with the symbolic set: a huge tree, both rooted and reaching for the new horizons.
Colker’s musical choices are mostly Russian classics, including Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, and are pretty much the only link with the novel’s historical origin. However, it is also complemented by Moondog, Berna Ceppa and other contemporary composers. Even the dance itself is a mixture of contemporary, almost acrobatic choreography and traditional on pointe dancing, which shows Tatyana’s transformation into a sophisticated woman.
Colker’s appearance on stage as one of the narrators is highly significant, as, despite being based on the novel, the production is very much her own creation. She borrows Pushkin’s plot, but, staying true to herself, places her own accents and creates new meanings, resulting in a new, very different story.
After all, this is where her strength has always lain: in creating unique, innovative productions. It is those occasions in which she decides to stick with the original which let her down, resulting in Tatyana’s letter, the iconic hymn to innocent and timid feelings, being read out with inappropriate sensuality. However, these moments are rare, and the production feels very authentic most of the time.
Those expecting to see a literal ballet version of Eugene Onegin may be disappointed, as this production does not re-tell Pushkin’s story. Instead, it is a work of art in its own right, with a striking conceptual and visual impact.