Ballet Stars

Boston Ballet's Anaïs Chalendard on Tapping Into Her Own Heartbreak to Dance "Onegin's" Tatiana

Chalendard with Sabi Varga in Onegin. Photo by Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Anaïs Chalendard as told to Amy Brandt

Tatiana is not simply a young, hopeful country girl. She's dark and complex—she's an introvert. I was also misunderstood when I was younger. Like Tatiana, I'm from a very little village. I wanted to see more and do great things, and it's hard when the people around you are in a very small bubble.

I have two ideas as to why Tatiana is so attracted to Onegin. In the poem, Pushkin talks about a technique men use on women: If you ignore them, they'll chase after you. I also believe that people have a magnetic field around them, and that there are simply some individuals that you respond very strongly to. Onegin was from St. Petersburg—he wasn't like any other guy she'd seen in the countryside. He had a charm that made her totally crazy for him.


Photo by Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

After she writes him the love letter, she can't eat or sleep—she's sick with anticipation. I start building up anxiety during Act II to help put myself in her position. When Onegin tears her letter apart, she's shocked—she finally has her answer. But I think a huge explosion of emotion here would break the moment. I went through rejection like this once, and I remember being speechless. My heart was so full of pain that it brought tears into my eyes. My whole body was shaking. I couldn't help it—it was a physiological reaction. This is what I try to portray.

I don't think Tatiana ever gets over it—she buries it deep inside and moves on with her life. She loves her husband, but it's not the same. No one will ever equal Onegin. When he returns to her years later, his mere presence gives her goose bumps. She's tormented—that's why she's so indecisive during the final pas de deux. Should she kiss him? Run after him? Tell him to go? I've never been in this situation, so I have to imagine myself in her shoes. I try to be emotionally spontaneous, because if you work too much on your expressions, it becomes predictable. Contrary to Onegin, Tatiana believes marriage is sacred. In the end, her integrity wins, and that's why she is a heroine. She sticks to her conviction, a beautiful conviction—her fidelity.

Tip: My ballet mistress, Larissa Ponomarenko, helped me brainstorm so that I wouldn't portray Tatiana too darkly. She said her beauty inside shines around her. That made me think of a rainbow, which is made of both rain and sunshine—it's a mix. I try to stress that complexity.

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