ENB Brings Exotic Pirate World to Life in Le Corsaire

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Adam, Pugni, Delibes et al,  Le Corsaire: English National Ballet and Orchestra / Gavin  Sutherland (conductor)), London Coliseum, London, 09.01.2014 (JO’D)

(L-R) Junor Souza, Erina Takahashi, Alina Cojacaru & Vadim Muntagirov dance in the English National Ballet dress rehearsal for the world premiere of Le Corsaire at Milton Keyens Theatre, Milton Keynes on October, 16 2013. Photo: Arnaud Stephenson
(L-R) Junor Souza, Erina Takahashi, Alina Cojacaru
, Vadim Muntagirov :  English National Ballet Le Corsaire
Photo: Arnaud Stephenson


Principal Dancers:
Medora: Alina Cojocaru
Conrad: Vadim Muntagirov
Gulnare: Shiori Kase
Lankendem: Dmitri Gruzdyev
Ali: Junor Souza
Birbanto: Yonah Acosta
Pasha: Michael Coleman
Pasha Assistant: Juan Rodriquez
Lead Villager: Nancy Osbaldeston
Odalisques: Senri Kou, Alison McWhinney, Laurretta Summerscales

Le Jardin Animé:
Erina Takahashi, Ksenia Ovsyanick
Roses: Nancy Osbaldeston, Adela Ramirez, Ksenia, Marize Ovsyanick, Laurretta Summerscales
Lead Flowers : Jenna Lee, Senri Kou, Jem Choi, Jia Zang

Staged by:Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev
Assisted by: José Martin
Sets and Costumes: Bob Ringwood
Lighting: Neil Austin
Conductor: Gavin Sutherland

Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Léo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, Prince Pyotr van Oldenbourg, Ludwig Minkus, Yuly Gerber, Baron Boris Fitinhof-Schell and Albert Zabel. Edited by: Lars Payne and Gavin Sutherland

Libretto: Jules-Henri de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier in a version by Anna-Marie Holmes
based on The Corsair (1814) by Lord Byron

After touring the country since October of last year, English National Ballet’s production of Le Corsaire arrives at the London Coliseum. For the opening night, Vadim Muntagirov danced the role of the Byronic pirate, Conrad, and Alina Cojocaru that of Medora, the woman he rescues from the seraglio. The ballet has a complicated plot, involving a slave trader, a lascivious pasha, and Conrad’s false friend, Birbanto. It also has an even more complicated history. This version is staged by Anna-Marie Holmes ‘after’ Marius Petipa (in the late nineteenth century) and Konstantin Sergeyev (in the 1970s). A pas de deux was made famous in the 1960s by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev as performances of the ballet itself became less common. This pas de deux is now thought to have originally been a pas de trois (added in 1915) for Medora, Conrad and his slave, Ali, and is danced as such in this production.

The sets and costumes, by Bob Ringwood, immediately conjure up an exotic, pirate-world of azure-coloured seas, white sails and bare midriffs. The music (nine composers are listed in the production credits) somehow manages to be completely unmemorable yet completely appropriate at the same time: rousing when swords are being clashed; gentle when Conrad and Medora are expressing their love for each other. I would say that this production of Le Corsaire strikes an almost perfect balance between stage spectacle and dance. In the bazaar setting of Act One, for example, the corps de ballet keeps up a constant, background ‘window-shopping’ of trinkets, but this never interferes with the audience’s ability to focus on the dancing of the principals and soloists. So, there is space in which to appreciate Nancy Osbaldeston’s perkily smiling Lead Villager, and the delicate (and delicately contrasting) movements of Senri Kou, Alison McWhinney and Laurretta Summerscales as three odalisques, very Petipa-like in their tutus. Dmitri Gruzdyev is also given room for a convincing characterization of Lankendem, the slave trader who thinks nothing of people and everything of money.

When Alina Cojocaru comes down from the tower in which she first appears and steps out on to the stage, it is like an expert swimmer, lowering herself into water. The air seems to support her. Neither she nor Muntagirov is given a great deal to do in this first act (though his stage presence and the height of his jumps impress from the start). It is in the pas de deux of Act Two (The Pirate’s Cave) that he displays the partnering skills for which he his famous, she a musicality that extends to her fingers. I saw for myself the way Vadim Muntagirov smiled at Daria Klimentová in last year’s The Nutcracker, as he held out his arms to lift her (‘like a great boy at a great game’ in the words of Henry James in ‘The Spoils of Poynton’). There was something of that in the kiss he and Cojocaru shared as, standing in front of him at one point, she leant her head back. The dancers seemed to be dancing for each other, and thanking each other for their dancing, as much as for the audience.

After this moment of intimacy, the lovers are separated by the plotting of the resentful Birbanto (Yonah Acosta, who is particularly good at expressing his anger through pirouettes and mime) – plotting that is only partially successful due to the intervention of Ali, the lean Yonah Acosta whose legs slice the air. Act Three takes place in the Pasha’s Palace (where the kidnapped Medora is brought). This starts with an almost monochrome Petipa ‘vision scene’ (Le jardin animé) for which the stage is cleared of all nearly all its exotic trappings, and in which the female members of the corps de ballet are joined by turbaned, winged, garland-bearing children. If I have one reservation about the production (apart from wishing that the music Tchaikovsky wrote for the ballet had been included) it is the depiction of the Pasha. More could have been done (and has been done elsewhere) than simply present him as ‘a doddery, old, fat fool’ (as Anne Holmes puts it). The ending of the ballet is both happy and sad, testimony perhaps to what Archive Consultant, Jane Pritchard, in the programme, calls its ‘extremely complex’ evolution.

John O’Dwyer