Meet the Men in Black

John Cranko’s dance drama Onegin opened the Royal Ballet 2010/2011 Season yesterday. Based on the verse-novel by Alexander Pushkin the ballet centers on Eugene Onegin, a young aristocrat whose brief stay in the Russian countryside has a major impact on the families he befriends there, bringing about tragedy and change.

Despite the dramatic and technical challenges it presents for the ballerina cast as Tatiana, this is a ballet focused on the male dancer, with great opportunities for acting and character development. Onegin is a dark, complex persona with so many levels; we first see him in Act 1 as a self-involved, judgmental aristocrat but by Act 3 he is a world-weary man suddenly transformed by love.

During the current revival four different Royal Ballet principals have been cast as “the Man in Black” Onegin. The fact that each of them hails from a different part of the globe – Denmark, Brazil, Italy and Georgia – presented a fantastic opportunity for us to show the diversity of talent in the company. Together with our friend photographer Dominic Dudley we asked Johan, Thiago, Federico and David to pose for us and tell us something about their role:

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Johan Kobborg, born in Copenhagen, Denmark

Johan Kobborg considers Onegin to be “one of the most challenging and exciting ballets in the classical repertory, a masterpiece.”  His high opinion of the ballet translates to the stage in his very detailed characterization. In reviewing Kobborg’s performance alongside his partner Alina Cojocaru in 2007 Mr. Clement Crisp remarked: “Kobborg lays Onegin’s desolate soul bare”.

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One of the fascinations of watching Alina Cojocaru (Tatyana) and Johan Kobborg (Onegin) is the closeness of their physical rapport, the bravura of partnering that bespeaks an absolute dramatic sympathy as well as an absolute dedication in rehearsal. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link]

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Thiago Soares, born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Thiago is well-known for his unique dramatic abilities. Onegin was his first big opportunity when he was still a soloist with the company. Usually a ballet performed by older dancers the chance came in 2004 when he had to fill in for an injured Onegin. Having reprised the role in 2007, he now tackles it for a third time:

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Onegin is wonderful and I love doing it. It’s such a complete ballet – everything in it is absolutely necessary to make it perfect, without any of the unnecessary extras that you find in some ballets.

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Federico Bonelli, born in Genoa, Italy

Having missed most of last season due to injury, Federico made a brief but welcome appearance in the last bill before the company’s tour to Japan, partnering Sarah Lamb in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. He has danced Lensky before but is now ready for a big comeback debuting as Onegin opposite Laura Morera’s Tatiana:

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I enjoyed dancing Lensky, especially the second act; so much passion in those steps! Onegin is probably even more enjoyable. The transformation this character goes through during the ballet can be a profound experience. The music is so powerful!

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It has been very frustrating to be unable to perform for so long. Coming back to full fitness and to the stage is a process that can be nerve-wracking at times: even when the body is fully recovered, the mind fears the old injury. At the same time is also very exciting to be back in rehearsal first and then on stage. Maybe what I am looking forward to the most right now is that mixture of emotional and physical tiredness that mixes with exhilaration after a hard show.

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David Makhateli, born in Tbilisi, Georgia

David joined The Royal Ballet after being attracted by its wealth of repertoire. His romantic onstage persona and elegant lines have made him an easy match for the classical and neoclassical ballets. It is in roles like Onegin that David feels most at home:

Onegin is one of my favourites; it is very important to me. I am half Russian and I grew up reading Lermontov, Chekhov and of course Pushkin. Rehearsing with Reid Anderson, Jane Bourne and Alexander Agadzhanov has been very enjoyable, even though the role of Onegin and the ballet as a whole are not easy.

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For me it is a great pleasure to work with Mara Galeazzi as my Tatiana; we last danced this ballet about three and a half years ago and I am so happy to be back in the studio and work on it again! There are a lot of things to work on and apart from the main Pas de Deux there are also a lot of important mise–en–scènes; if you are not clear in what you are doing the audience will not get the full story.

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It’s a very rewarding moment when, after the curtain goes down, you hear the audience cheering and applauding because they enjoyed your show; when they come up to you backstage or at the stage door and tell you how much your performance touched them. I think this is the greatest reward.

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All photos by Dominic Dudley ©

Onegin continues at the Royal Opera House until 25 October. For more information & booking visit the ROH website.

Subject to cast changes, each dancer is scheduled to perform as follows:

Johan Kobborg – 9 & 25 October

Thiago Soares – 2 & 12 October

Federico Bonelli – 5 & 8 October

David Makhateli – 6, 13 & 20 October

We started The Ballet Bag in April 2009 with the mission to prove that ballet is not stuffy, old fashioned and inaccessible; that it is quite the opposite: relevant, fresh and topical. With the aim to Give Ballet a New Spin we try to show it under a different light. When writing our capsule biographies, ballet fact cards, review roundups and commentary on social media, we cross it over with other art forms and cultural references (pop culture, cinema, rock music – ie. other things we love!).


  • [...] To see the Ballet Bag’s interview with the four, alongside some of my photos, click here. [...]

  • October 4, 2010


    You should check out Jerome Robbins’s fab adaptation of the musical into ballet – originally choreographed for NYCB – sadly it isn’t part of the Royal Ballet repertory.

  • October 2, 2010

    Salina Christmas

    Any chance of a ballet version done for West Side Story? These men would make a great cast for either the Jets or the Sharks. They remind me of this scene:

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Ballet Bag, Laura / Bella Figura. Laura / Bella Figura said: Lovely feature! RT @theballetbag New photoblog: Meet the men in black – Kobborg, Soares, Bonelli &Makhateli are #Onegin [...]