To be frank, the storytelling in Tatyana, Deborah Colker’s interpretation of Pushkin’s poem Eugene Onegin, was all over the place. The tale was narrowed down to the four main characters, Tatyana, Onegin, Lensky and Olga (each identified by the colour of their costumes) but each had multiple clones playing the roles simultaneously while perfunctory acting and simple props highlighted the key moments. Pushkin himself was added as a fifth character (which was problematic in that he became the central figure of the piece rather than Tatyana) and he kept in touch with his feminine side by transforming into Deborah Colker from time to time; a pointed statement about shared authorship, I guess. Still with me?
Fortunately there was an enormous amount to inspire in Tatyana. The twisted wooden planked tree that dominated the stage in the first half looked awkward at first but its versatility quickly became clear as dancers glided across its branches, clambered up its trunk and leaped and swung every which-way around it. Its gentle upper curves also beautifully accentuated the dancers’ bodies as they draped and stretched upon it.
The second half featured several breathtaking visual set-pieces – the moment the newly-wed Tatyana, high at the back of the stage, retrieved her clones from the wings in a cross between Giselle’s Willis and the entrance of the Shades in La Bayadere was terrific.
Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker is a group of hugely talented dancers and strong classical technique underpinned their contemporary athleticism. Strength and control was de rigeur for all; the way positions were abruptly held at the top of a thrust or at the extremity of a lunge were almost chilling in their accuracy.
There was some particulary wonderful dancing in part two. The women donned pointe shoes and it was great to see non-traditional ballet bodies performing so eloquently on pointe; it added a whole new dimension of earthier personalities, more rooted in a real world.
Rather like the tree, the music felt a bit disjointed at first. A hotch-potch of Tchaikovsky strings, Rachmaninov piano concertos, tribal drumming, electro and folk/jazz it actually ended up suiting the fragmented nature of the visuals. Not sure the curious lines that etched across the scrim added too much, although the square snow was good.
Despite the dicky storytelling Tatyana was a joy to watch.
Tatyana runs until 9 February 2013 and tickets (and a short video clip) can be found at the Barbican website.