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

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

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."

Latest Posts


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

An Infectious-Disease Physician on What Vaccines Mean for Ballet

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds into its second year, the toll on ballet companies—and dancers—has been steep. How long before dancers can rehearse and perform as they once did?

Like most things, the return to normal for ballet seems to hinge on vaccinations. Just over 22 percent of people in the U.S. are now vaccinated, a way from the estimated 70 to 85 percent experts believe can bring back something similar to pre-pandemic life.

But what would it mean for 100 percent of a ballet company to be vaccinated? Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini is about to find out—and hopes it brings the return of big ballets on the big stage.

"I don't think companies like ours can survive doing work for eight dancers in masks," Angelini says. "If we want to work, dance, and be in front of an audience consistently and with the large works that pay the bills, immunization is the only road that leads there."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks