Mini musical musings – part 1 – Onegin

Music is one of my muses, especially for my dance creations. This is the first in a series of mini posts about the music I enjoy painting to.

Onegin ballet score CD and red ballet programme photographed with white freesias and red ribbon

Onegin is one of my favourite ballet scores, although it's a ballet I never saw performed until recent years and a title I find incredibly hard to pronounce.

The ballet tells the story of Eugene Onegin and Tatiana who, in short, fall in love with each other but not at the same time so it all gets wonderfully and dramatically complicated (which leads to some gorgeous pas de deux including the glorious spiegel pas de deux in the final act).

Onegin has a Tchaikovsky score so what's not to love about it! However, it's not usually listed among the infamous Tchaikovsky full-length ballets (Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker). Fair enough, Tchaikovsky composed an opera but that doesn't make the score any less lovely for a ballet. So I like to include it in my list of Tchaikovsky ballets (and my sister would add Serenade to that list, which is her favourite although not a full-length work).

Unusually, I fell in love with Onegin's music years before I even knew which ballet it was from. During my early 20s, I used to get up very early to join an adult ballet class before I headed to university classes. We were following the Royal Academy of Dancing (RAD) elementary syllabus which, at the time, included exercises that were set to extracts from Onegin.

My favourite exercise was the adagio set to the Tchaikovsky music used within one of the pas de deux in Onegin. Possibly my most favourite ballet class routine of all time, as I still remember most of it. Ironically, the incredibly challenging polonaise, which thwarted me every time, was also from Onegin. I'm definitely an adagio over allegro kinda gal.

I didn't know the music or realise the composer at the time and it was only a good ten years later at some point in my 30s when I finally heard the adagio on the kitchen radio and learnt that it was from Onegin. Thank you Classic FM!

Fast forward another 10 years to my early 40s when I was able to attend my first live performance of Onegin at the Royal Opera House in London and tick this fabulous ballet off my ballet bucket list (although will definitely go and watch it again). I was delighted to realise during the performance that many of the variations in the syllabus I had studied were adapted from the actual choreography and recognisable to me. Amazing!

Onegin is also a special ballet because it's choreographed by John Cranko. Cranko was a South African dancer who's best known for his career with the Royal Ballet and, particularly, the Stuttgart Ballet. I had the honour in my youth to perform a Cranko pas de trois ... but that's a comical story for next time!

P.S. I've not yet attempted an Onegin painting, but there is an Onegin-inspired creation in my Balletoons mix.

P.P.S Happy a little painting I did of some of the dancers in the ballet class mentioned in this post went to live in its forever home this weekend. 


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