S.F. Ballet Masters the Joy and the Tragedy in Heavy Russian Onegin

Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in Onegin.Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in Onegin.

It's winter in San Francisco, it's cold (or at least gray), and the San Francisco Ballet's 2012 season has kicked off this week with a heavy, Russian tragedy. (Save the whimsical Don Quixote for spring when spirits are lighter.) Through Friday, the War Memorial Opera House is sunk into 1820s Russia, when social class determined destiny, and women had few opportunities other than to love and yearn to be loved.

The ballet is Onegin, based on the poem by Alexander Pushkin — the tale of a urban sophisticate who rejects the innocent country girl, kills his friend, and then returns later only to be rejected by country-girl-made-good and sink into bitter loneliness and regret. (We're guessing Pushkin may have been a “glass half-empty” type.)

Onegin has also been turned into an opera and even adapted into a dark little film starting Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler. But the ballet is the creation of John Cranko, first staged in 1965 by the Stuttgart Ballet, set to a score arranged by Kurt-Heinz Stolze that mixes various pieces by Tchaikovsky. The set and costumes come to us from Santo Loquasto, perhaps best known for being Woody Allen's designer in 24 productions. The point of all this shameless name dropping? The talent runs deep, and that's before the ballerinas show up.


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