Choreography-after Marius Petipa Konstantin Sergeyev
Director : Tamara Rojo
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Le Corsaire (The Pirate) is sailing into Milton Keynes this week, well metaphorically at least! Do not miss the boat. One might have wished to float off with them after this evening’s performance! English National Ballet is the first UK Company to perform the complete piece, which showcases some of the most athletic male dancing in the ballet repertoire, and is one of the great 19th century classics, created originally by no-less-than the Russian choreographer Marius Petipa. Le Corsaire is inspired by Lord Byron’s poem, The Corsair (1814), and tells the story of Conrad, a debonair and dashing pirate, and his passionate love for Medora, the beautiful harem lady. It is a semi-swashbuckling and epic tale of maidens being captured, rich pashas, of both kidnaps and rescues, of deception, love and ultimate betrayal, which all very dramatically lead to the final shipwreck and a very sad ending, but lest we spoil it..! The latter is considered to be one of the most awe-inspiring spectacles ever seen in classical ballet, even if it does, in this production, seem a tad hasty. Nonetheless it is beautiful. Indeed, Hollywood film specialist Bob Ringwood of Batman and Star Trek Nemesis fame – to name but two – has designed new sets and costumes for this ripping yarn, a real dramatic adventure story. He has said that he has “emphasised the romantic, erotic and historic elements of the ballet” and that is most definitely the case. Clever and atmospheric sets, effectively layered, bring us the ambiance of the Middle East, raging seas and even opiate-induced dreams. This last set with its Taj Mahal backdrop and with filigree elements is also wonderfully enhanced by the delicate lighting touches which work so well with the music. The total lends itself to the ensemble dancing which is oft reminiscent of company pieces in Swan Lake, as is the score.
It was in this work that acclaimed Margot Fonteyn performed the now famous pas de deux with Nureyev, a dance which made a legend of him in the U.K In this production the same pas de deux is equally lyrical and poignant. One floats away with it much as Medora’s shimmering robes float and billow with every movement. The company’s artistic director, Tamara Rojo, has worked with Anne-Marie Holmes(who created this version over ten years ago) in order to ‘rejuvenate’ the ballet and to make it special for English National Ballet and that she has achieved. The music has also been re-orchestrated, so almost a new production! It makes such a difference having an orchestra and this one, sharply conducted and directed by Gavin Sutherland, is spot on.
Lead principals Alina Cojacaru as the beautiful harem girl Medora and Vadim Muntagirov in the rôle of Conrad have a convincing but quietly understated rapport and both of their pas de deux, especially in Act II, are touchingly lyrical. However, they also demonstrate immense skill in their turns, and for Conrad’s more ‘dashing’ moments his leaps and arabesques are tres dynamic. Exquisite performances from both. Dmitri Gruzdyev brings us the mean slave trader Lankendem, and as a character and a dancer he is perfect. The most energetic and powerful of all the male dancers, it has to be said, is Junor Souza in the part of Ali. What incredible heights he reaches and such charisma! The almost-pantomime baddy, Birbanto, is played by Yonah Acosta with real menace! Sound character acting. The Odalisques, who perform for the comic figure, the Pasha, are very talented dancers individually and as a trio. The company dancing is of the high standard one has come to expect of E.N.B and they bring out the best in the lovely Petipa choreography. The dances in the first act, which is the more gentle setting of scene (in reality and figuratively), show excellent synchronicity and timing and give us a feeling of North African village life. This effect is spectacularly created, as with other scenes such as pirate/slave trader battles, not only through the skilful dancing and superb choreography but also by the costumes, a veritable blaze of colour and texture.
The second act is the better, lulling the audience into a sense of security with the dolce opening lovers’ duet before the dancing explodes upon us along with the heightened dramatic score. This is the time when the male dancers can truly show off their immense talent and they surely rise to the occasion, in every sense.
An evening which took this reviewer back to childhood visits to the ballet when one first discovered a passion for same.! A real voyage of discovery and joy. Hoist up the main sail and get to Milton Keynes by Saturday. You will not regret it!
Runs until Sat 19 Oct 13