How Paris Opéra's Hugo Marchand Becomes Onegin (And Why the Role Inspired Him to Study Acting)

Hugo Marchand and Sae Eun Park in John Cranko's Onegin. Julien Benhamou, Courtesy Paris Opéra Ballet.

Onegin isn't a regular ballet character: He's neither good nor bad, but gray, in between. I started by reading Alexander Pushkin's verse poem, and I found it difficult. It portrays an emotional state that is very Russian: This existential melancholy in a man, Onegin, who is very educated, intelligent, but depressed. He's also very selfish, and hurts the people around him without even really realizing it.


I didn't think I would get to dance this role so early in my career. John Cranko's Onegin is often given to mature, older dancers, but I believe young casts have something to bring to it, too, with the right coaching. Reid Anderson, who staged it at the Paris Opéra Ballet, showed me how to put more weight into a walk, how to use my hands more expressively, but he also told us to trust ourselves. In the Act I mirror pas de deux, for instance, I chose to be young and ardent, closer to myself, because Onegin is just Tatiana's fantasy at this point: He doesn't have to be dark anymore.

There were lots of moments where I really doubted my interpretation. What is difficult to portray is Onegin's boredom. When this man in black with sideburns goes for a walk with Tatiana and ignores her, he could easily look mean or harsh, whereas he's simply not interested in her. I was afraid the audience wouldn't understand, because there are a lot of contrasting emotions to project while maintaining technical control.

The pas de deux in Onegin are the hardest I've ever done—harder than Manon's. They look slow, but actually they're very fast: There's practically a step for every note. And while in other ballets the man can take about 80 percent of the partnering work unto himself, here the woman needs to be as strong as he is. She does 50 percent of the work, and it's a matter of coordination. The final pas de deux, at the end of Act III, is gorgeous but exhausting. The challenge is to stay lucid to ensure the partnering goes to plan, because Tatiana's dress is big and slippery. The two keep missing each other: I think at this point Onegin is in love with the idea of being in love, not with Tatiana herself. He wants what he doesn't have.

Julien Benhamou, Courtesy Paris Opéra Ballet

Before the performances, I would keep to myself, because I needed to get into the atmosphere as well as into the historical period. My director, Aurélie Dupont, told me: You look very somber in the wings, it's almost frightening. It was a real artistic and human challenge, and I'm still digesting it. Thanks to Onegin, I've also decided to take acting classes: I want to find even more clarity onstage with the characters that I play.

Tip: "Researching the role way ahead of time is key," says Marchand. "Onegin isn't a ballet where you can just expect to be fed the choreography in rehearsal. You need to process what you learn, understand it, question it, understand it differently."

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

Keep reading... Show less
The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

Keep reading... Show less