Dance icon Deborah Colker brings Tatyana to 2012 Edinburgh International Festival
Brazilian choreographer brings show based on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin to Edinburgh
This article is from 2012.
When you approach the latest dance production by trailblazing, Olivier Award-winning Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker, please jettison clichés of samba, sun and surf. The small, blonde dynamo, 52 this year, is hugely popular in her native country while constantly cultivating an ever-widening international reputation.
In the past two decades she has created performances that feature a climbing wall and a giant wheel, or that easily referenced physics, philosophy or fetishism. She even conceived and directed a piece for Cirque du Soleil (OVO, Portuguese for egg) and managed to inject her own sunny yet volcanic personality into it.
Now, for the first time, Colker has tackled pre-existing source material. Tatyana, her Edinburgh International Festival debut, is an adaptation of Russian author Alexander Pushkin’s 19th-century verse novel, Eugene Onegin. Lodged at its heart is the head-over-heels love an innocent country girl feels for a selfish dandy, intelligent and privileged but bored. He rejects her. Years later the tables are turned.
With its amatory dreams, aura of doomed romanticism and understanding of nature and superstition, Colker found the book irresistible. ‘It’s about love and life,’ she says, speaking from her self-titled company’s headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, ‘about being young and growing up by building values from your losses and choices.’ Her biggest challenge in tackling Pushkin’s writing was ‘to have the accuracy to respect, pursue and embrace everything I find in it’.
This may not have been as hard as it seems, given Colker’s Russian-Jewish heritage. ‘My four grandparents are Russian, so it wasn’t like going to another planet. I remember when I was little sitting on my grandpa’s lap, and he used to tell me stories by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Pushkin. I remember the feelings in them, all the fears and yearning.’
In researching and devising Tatyana, Colker made her company dive head-first into Eugene Onegin, its various incarnations in opera, ballet and film and the culturally flourishing Russia of Pushkin’s era (a far cry from today’s Pussy Riot versus Putin). The show’s score teems with music by the likes of Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and especially Rachmaninov, supplemented by the work of American maverick Moondog, minimalist composer Terry Riley and Colker’s own long-time musical collaborator, Berna Ceppa.
Although inspired by all these influences, Colker chose to make a work that in no way would betray its historical or geographical origins. Tatyana, she insists, ‘is not Brazilian or Russian, nor from 2012 or 1836. The piece is timeless, but it comes from my heart and skin. It was a gift to be close to Russian art and yet have the freedom to be here and now, connecting myself to the Tatyana who lives inside me – a woman who builds her future and makes her own choices’.
Working with her regular designer Gringo Cardia, Colker responded to Pushkin using all her senses. Passionate, poetic and partly danced on pointe, Tatyana is a work of large-scale physical, visual and psychological impressions. The major set-piece is a vast, abstract tree both reaching yet rooted, and sturdy enough to be danced upon.
Although sprung from a narrative framework, the performance doesn’t adhere to an easily-grasped plot. There’s not just one Onegin and Tatyana, but four each in Act One, and double that number in a second act described as ‘pure atmosphere, pure feeling.’ Pushkin is onstage too, and Colker herself. ‘I usually joke saying I’m the female Pushkin, or the Deborah who chose the book and interfered and identified with it and built this show, just as Pushkin built this story with its many creative layers.’
Clearly, Colker is smitten with her titular heroine. ‘I still want to talk to Pushkin, to call or send an email and ask why he named his book Eugene Onegin, and not after the character he builds with all his strength.’
Deborah Colker Dance Company: Tatyana, Edinburgh Playhouse, 473 2000, Sat 11–Tue 14 Aug, 7.30pm, £10–£30.