Russia via Brazil

Deborah Colker’s dance company presents ‘Tatyana,’ an original take on ‘Eugene Onegin

Russia and Brazil (photo credit: WALTER CARVALHO)
Russia and Brazil
(photo credit: WALTER CARVALHO)
As a young girl, Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker would sit and listen to her grandfather reading excerpts from the writings of great Russian authors such as Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. Thousands of miles away from the origin of these words, Colker could envision the characters acting out scenes in her mind. Those figures left a lasting impression on Colker, so much so that she found herself, decades later, drawn to reinterpret Pushkin’s novel Eugene Onegin, using dance as her medium.
Next week, Colker will bring her celebrated dance company back to Israel. During this visit, the company will present Tatyana , created in 2011, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The troupe visited the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center in 2013 with Mix, an evening of highlights from Colker’s repertoire.
“My grandparents were Russian Jews,” she explains. “Pushkin is part of my childhood, as is education and Israel. I studied in a Jewish school, and being Jewish has always been part of my genesis. Bringing to the stage 19th-century Russia, with all its cultural richness, art, poetry, literature, is very exciting.
This piece is about love, maturity and choice.”
Colker is a lively woman with an emphatic speaking voice and seemingly boundless energy. Her choreographies are strikingly visual, employing elaborate sets and musical scores to enhance the viewer experience. Beyond the realm of her own ensemble Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker, she has created works for many troupes, including the Canadian powerhouse Cirque du Soleil.
Over the past 20 years, Colker’s company has steadily climbed from an unknown ensemble to a major voice in the contemporary dance world of Brazil. The dance company runs a school that provides dance training to more than 600 eager students in Rio de Janeiro.
As the title of Tatyana implies, Colker’s take on Eugene Onegin is based on the main female character in the story.
“I love Tatyana. I find her an amazing woman. It is impressive how at the beginning of the story she is a shy, introspective girl and the transformation she undergoes.
Tatyana is an important revolutionary woman, and this is a delicate human story that questions values such as love, ethics, friendship and jealousy,” she says.
“It wouldn’t make sense to adapt this story now if these characters did not represent us and did not speak about our lives now,” she says.
Preferring an abstract approach to the story, Colker assigned each of the four major roles – Tatyana, Lensky, Onegin and Olga – to a number of dancers. In the first act, four dancers represent each character, while in the second all the men play Onegin and all the women Tatyana.
“Actually, when I read the book I became conscious of Pushkin’s strong presence and thought it would be wonderful to have him on stage. Therefore, in both acts there is the writer, the creator, Pushkin, who leads the story, interferes, changes and suffers,” Colker elaborates.
On stage, Colker has opted to erect a large, tree-like structure.
Throughout the piece, the dancers interact with this sculpture, leaping on and off it and hiding behind its branches.
“Pushkin speaks a lot about nature, of the four seasons and of the relationship between urban and rural, so the tree synthesizes all those things. The tree is the symbol of knowledge, and we are talking about a book,” she says.
For many, taking on such a beloved piece of literature would be a daunting task. However, for Colker it was an opportunity to add her own input to the story. “ Eugene Onegin has been interpreted by many. There is the book, the opera by Tchaikovsky, John Cranko’s ballet, and the movie starring Ralph Fiennes. But I believe I brought my own reading and personal view to this novel by having the freedom to connect Russia through the music and the literature. And also by bringing the story into the present day,” she says.
Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker will perform Tatyana at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on October 29, 30 and 31 (www.israel- and at the Jerusalem Theatre on November 4 and 5 (