AUERBACH: Tatiana (ballet), Blu-ray (2016)
Auerbach is nothing if not ecelctic. . . even polystylistic.
Players: Hamburg State Opera Ballet: Helene Bouchet, Edvin Revazov, Leslie Heylmann, Alexandr Trusch, Carsten Jung
Conductor: Simon Hewett; Choreography: John Neumeier.
Studio: C Major 737504 [7/8/16]
Video: for 16:9 screens, color HD
Audio: DTS-HD 5.1, PCM stereo
Subtitles: English, German, French
Extras: Tatiana – Back to Pushkin
Length: 167 min.
Ratings: Audio: **** ½ Video: *****
Tatiana is a ballet by John Neumeier with music by Lera Auerbach, a Soviet-Russian-born American composer. While its narrative origins lie with Alexander Pushkin’s longish poem Eugene Onegin, its musical technique and style can’t be pinned down like a PBS production of Léo Delibes’ Coppélia or indeed like Intuitive Momentum by the Bill T. Jones Dance Company. Auerbach is nothing if not eclectic or, in the words used to describe her countryman Alfred Schnittke, even ‘polystylistic.’ The same holds true of Neumeier, dancewise.
The ballet begins pleasantly enough, with a sweet dream sequence of the young Tatiana, the germination of many hours reading romantic novels. The music is almost Tchaikovskian, with its fat melodic lines and gushy intonations. Soon it takes on a dark aura, as Auerbach dips into the well of early twentieth-century atonality and the dream dancers get embroiled in jealousy and murder. While not attributed, there’s a theremin in the Cleopatra ballet-within-a-ballet sequence, perhaps to impart an eerie exoticism. (It works, as it did with Auerbach’s earlier composition Dreams and Whispers of Poseidon of 2005.) The music turns frenetic as Cleopatra kills herself and an unsettled solo ensues as Onegin, archly danced by Edvin Rezazov, finds out about the death of his rich uncle.
Auerbach channels Prokofiev as Onegin arrives, befriends Lensky, and blends with the country folk. Most of the time her music makes dramatic sense; however, sometimes she just misses at conveying the complex emotions (or moves) of the dancers. Occasionally, strains are not quite filler, but they can lack the wow! factor. To be fair, that happens rarely. Most of the time her music is skillfully composed and evocative.
Throughout most of this Hamburg Ballet televised performance, the dancing is splendid and not boring. It is satiric during the country celebration with its use of 1920s “jazz” dance rhythms, then devolves into unease and perturbation as the lovers’ relationship sinks low. At times, Auerbach seems to use a blend of early twentieth-century/late romanticism and contemporary modernism, and Neumeier provides highly original choreography and emotional reactions (such as the playful pas de deux between Tatiana and her nurse or the homoerotic one between Onegin and Lensky).
Neumeier and Auerbach collaborated before in the ballet The Little Mermaid (2011). In that work, the action is also quite theatrical, with inventive dancing, makeup, costumes, and a host of naked emotions. However, Tatiana is not so dark, with its theme of a formerly naive woman (wondrously danced by Helene Bouchet) wising up and abandoning youthful illusions. The creators stay true to Pushkin’s plot. When Onegin reappears years later to turn on the oily charm, Tatiana, a true proto-feminist, responds by rejecting the selfish prig.