Having seen the Royal Ballet’s stunning take on John Cranko’s Onegin the night before at the ROH, I was struggling to imagine how the Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker would compare with the beauty and power conveyed by the classical dance. The Companhia is a Brazilian contemporary dance group created from the dance halls of Rio de Janeiro by Deborah Colker, a choreographer and theatre writer who, in 2001, became the first Brazilian to win an Olivier award. Colker likes to work with big sets, using a huge climbing wall in her 1995 show Velox and large structures in her work with the Cirque de Soleil, and Tatyana, performed last year at the Edinburgh International Festival, is no different. She sets her dancers writhing, climbing and leaping across the monumental tree-like structure which is studded with books in an obvious reference to Tatyana’s love of reading, demonstrating athletic boldness with falls from considerable heights and some impressive lifts.

The opening borrows heavily from ballet, building the innocent scene of the meeting between the young Tatyana and Onegin. However, things are complicated by the existence of no less than four Tatyanas and four Olgas, distinguished by their green and pink dresses, and the same number of Lenskys and Onegins. This is probably the main problem with the production; the plot has been stripped down to such an extent that only four characters and very little of Pushkin’s original story remain. The characters that do appear are multiplied and thus both complicate understanding of the narrative and water-down the personality of each character. Pushkin also puts in an appearance, played by Colker herself and the absolute star of the show, Dielson Pessoa, who dominates the stage with a certain air of theatricality and his incredible blond hair which he flicks from time to time.

The tone changes dramatically in the much shorter second half, descending into Onegin’s dreamlike regrets and desires after his realisation of his love and the definitive rebuttal from the now-married Tatyana. The whole act is set to a dramatic Rachmaninov piano concerto and has a dreamlike quality, using screens to emphasise the doomed nature of this story of unrequited love behind which multiple imaginary Tatyanas taunt Onegin’s desires. This is a performance so far removed from the original novel as to be almost unrecognisable, excepting the key scenes, but as a show it’s certainly visually impressive.

Tatyana is playing at the Barbican until 9 February. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican website.

Photo credit: Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker