Whatever I expected of Eifman Ballet's Onegin, it certainly didn't include snorts of laughter from the people around me for most of the show, and muffled laughter from elsewhere in the auditorium. Yet once you accept that your neighbours won't let you take the show seriously, you realise that Onegin is brilliantly hilarious - which is much-needed in the Trocks' prolonged absence.
Boris Eifman brings a whole new meaning to "there's something for everyone", with hints of Matthew Bourne, Broadway, Saturday Night Fever, Hofesh Shechter and MTV in the opening two scenes alone, with throwbacks to Grease, Center Stage, Britney Spears, Thriller, Pina Bausch, the '99 film Kick, The Ring and Martha Graham in the rest of Onegin - as well as a surplus of jazz hands.
From the opening scene, there's no doubting the modernity of this production, as we see several LBDs (little black dresses) and pairs of sunglasses among the dancers; rather than working with the original score for Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Eifman has chosen a medley of Tchaikovsky's greatest hits alongside contemporary rock music by Alexander Sitkovetsky. The effects of the electric guitar sections, combined with Onegin's red and purple clothing, and Oleg Gabyshev's longish hair gives the ballet an unshakeable '80s feel.
Like Eifman's Anna Karenina, the storyline of Onegin has been dramatically simplified, focussing only on the central characters of sisters Olga and Tatyana, their suitors Lensky and Onegin, and Tatyana's husband-to-be The General. Also like Anna Karenina, the storytelling itself is minimal, however unlike Anna Karenina, the choreography has less impact. In fact, the choreography often borders on the ridiculous, for example Onegin's wooing of Tatyana coming to an abrupt end when she finds his hand up her dress, however she responds to his kiss with jazz hands. Later, we see Olga and Lensky frolicking happily while Tatyana, behind them, appears to drown herself on a bench. In the second act, we see Onegin bring out the Martha Graham in Tatyana, while her husband's mere touch makes her break out in an attack of jazz hands. And it's really best not to know what Freud would make of her dream.
Unintentional comedy aside, there are some beautiful dance sequences, predominantly in Onegin's many anguished solos, performed by the truly amazing Oleg Gabyshev, as well as the bromance scenes between him and Lensky, performed by Dmitry Fisher.
While the programme notes state Eifman's intentions to define the Russian soul in Onegin, it's best to appreciate the accidental humour - and you'll end up enjoying it far more than you could have anticipated. Just imagine, if MTV made ballets....