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PREVIEW | The National Ballet’s Eugene Onegin Brings Back A Popular Story About Lost Romantic Chances

By Anya Wassenberg on November 14, 2023

The National Ballet of Canada's Onegin (Photos courtesy of the NBC)
The National Ballet of Canada’s Onegin (Photos courtesy of the NBC)

The National Ballet of Canada will present Onegin, opening November 22. Principal Dancer and Choreographic Associate Guillaume Côté will return to the lead role for the last time in his career.

The lead role, with its nuances and character development, is said to be a favourite of Côté’s, as it is for many dancers.

Pushkin’s Story

Eugene Onéguine [Onegin], A Romance of Russian Life in Verse, was published in 1881. It’s considered by many to be the most significant work in Pushkin’s career, and has been translated into many languages outside his native Russian.

It took eight years for poet Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin to complete the work, a novel written entirely in verse. The novel tells a timeless story about the bittersweetness of love that goes unanswered, and missed opportunities that cannot be regained.

Tatiana comes from a wealthy family, and Onegin is a Russian nobleman. The young Tatiana declares her love for Onegin, however the worldly, cynical aristocrat spurns her. Time passes, Tatiana grows up, and now it’s Eugene who’s pursuing her.

But, as they say, that ship has sailed.

Onegin is a tragic figure, Tatiana most often interpreted as one of grace and nobility in difficult circumstances.

John Cranko’s Eugene Onegin (The Ballet)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the libretto for his own opera by the same name. However, that’s not the music behind the ballet — although, it is likewise culled from Tchaikovsky’s catalogue.

There’s a story behind that.

Cranko got the idea for a ballet after choreographing dances to go along with a production of Tchaikovsky’s opera in 1952. He went to the powers that be at Covent Garden, who promptly rejected the idea.

The South African, considered by many to one of the foremost narrative choreographer of the 20th century, kept the project at the back of his mind while he went on to Sadler’s Wells Ballet for several years. He landed in Stuttgart, where he got the company’s full support after his successful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

General Manager of both the opera and dance Walter Schafer, however, stipulated that the ballet could not use the music from Tchaikovsky’s opera.

Crank sifted through the composer’s lesser known works to come up with the score, orchestrated by ballet Kapellmeister Kurt-Heinze Stolze. Written in three acts, the music is largely drawn from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons. NBC Music Director and Principal Conductor David Briskin describes it as, “a pastiche of gorgeous and expansive Russian melodies that weave their way through the emotional world that Onegin explores.”

The ballet premiered in 1965, although Cranko revised it multiple times over the next two years. Today, it’s considered one of the pinnacles of contemporary ballet and a favourite of dancers, with its rich characters and musicality.

The production was redesigned in 2010, including period sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto and lighting by James F. Ingalls.

The NBC first performed Onegin in 1984, and it entered the repertoire in 2010. As Artistic Director Hope Muir puts it, Onegin gives dancers the opportunity to use, “all of their knowledge and passion and deep understanding of stagecraft to these roles.”

The National Ballet of Canada's Onegin (Photos courtesy of the NBC)
The National Ballet of Canada’s Onegin (Photos courtesy of the NBC)

The Cast

Five of the dancers will be making their debuts in the lead roles. They’re being coached by Rex Harrington and Xiao Nan Yu, both former Principal Dancers, (trivia: Rex partnered Nan in her 2000 debut as Tatiana).

Principal Dancer and Choreographic Associate Guillaume Côté will be performing Onegin for the last time as Onegin. The roles of Onegin and Tatiana will be divided between four dancers each.

Eugene Onegin

  • Guillaume Côté (November 22, 24 at 7:30 p.m.)
  • Naoya Ebe* (November 23 at 2:00 p.m./November 25 at 7:30 p.m.)
  • Christopher Gerty* (November 23 at 7:30 pm/November 26 at 2:00 p.m.)
  • Larkin Miller* (November 25 at 2:00 p.m.)


  • Jurgita Dronina* (November 22, 24 at 7:30 p.m.)
  • Koto Ishihara* (November 23 at 2:00 p.m./November 25 at 7:30 p.m.)
  • Heather Ogden (November 23 at 7:30 p.m./November 26 at 2:00 p.m.)
  • Svetlana Lunkina (November 25 at 2:00 p.m.)

Tickets and more information available [HERE].

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