January 13, 2013
It may have the most convoluted and absurd of plots, and a patchwork score attributed to no fewer than nine composers, but Le Corsaire is also a fantastic romp; the most upbeat of ballets with near non-stop bravura dancing. So it’s a big welcome back to the pirates and harem girls, and an evening of rip-roaring entertainment.
Taking its cue (very loosely!) from an 1814 poem by Byron, the ballet essentially concerns a bunch of pirates, a slave trader and a pasha with a penchant for pretty slave girls. The story centres on the abduction and rescue of two of them, Medora and Gulnare, although there are more than a few complications on the way.
It’s all set in a delicious fantasy Oriental world created by Hollywood star designer Bob Ringwood, better known for his work on the Batman, Empire of the Sun and the Alien films. Ringwood was also responsible for the wonderful costumes, a riot of colour and texture.
The action moves from a port backed by domes and minarets that looks for all the world like Constantinople of old, to the pirates cave that hints at a ruined temple, to the Pasha’s palace and a sequence in front of a Taj Mahal-style affair fronted by Western-style fountains. The comings and goings can get confusing, but don’t worry about it; just sit back and wallow in the riotous exuberance of it all.
Maybe more than any other ballet, Le Corsaire is an unashamed showcase for soloists to show off, especially the four leading men. All tore through their bravura solos with great panache. There were fireworks everywhere. It was like several New Year’s Eves all rolled into one magnificent display.
But first to Tamara Rojo, a radiant and captivating Medora. A vision of perfection, she is a consummate actor; every step, every gesture carried meaning. Her gentle teasing and mocking of the Pasha was a delight. There was also freedom, a joy and a naturalness to her dancing. She soared in the main pas de deux, turning on flamboyance to match the men. It’s been a while since I heard a couple produce so many cheers from the audience, but she and Osiel Gouneo as Conrad, aided and abetted by Cesar Corrales as Ali, near brought the house down.
Gouneo is an aggressive, rough around the edges leader of the pirates, a characterisation altogether more convincing than many. He is a man who demands to be followed. Ali could have been made for the effervescent Corrales with his prodigious soaring jumps and warp-speed turns. This sort of role is clearly his forte; he looked so much more at home than as a Nutcracker Prince; but maybe that will come.
Brooklyn Mack was fablulous as the evil double-dealing slave-trader Lankendem, A guest from Washington Ballet, he’s quite a showman and a perfect addition for the season. Yonah Acosta threw himself fully into the swaggering, swarthy, menacing Birbanto.
Elsewhere, the three Odalesques all shone, but none more so than the delightful Shiori Kase, who produced a faultless series of arabesques and triple turns, and who has the marvellous knack of near suspending time as she hangs onto a position but without losing musicality. Lauretta Summerscales was a filigree, refined Gulnare.
All were more than ably backed up the corps. The market place scenes buzzed with activity, the slave girls were charming, and the pirates swashed and buckled to great effect.
As ever, Michael Coleman played up the comedy and had a whale of a time playing the fat Pasha, whose sole aim in life seems to be to ogle and stock his harem with ever more beautiful girls, and then to dream about even more of them when he’s asleep.
The ballet’s let down, as ever, is Act III. The Pasha’s dream, Le Jardin Animé (The Enchanted Garden), may be beautiful, and may give an excuse for lots of ladies in tutus, but it doesn’t really move the story on and always seems a tad tame after the pyrotechnics that precede it. After that, Conrad’s shooting of Birbanto; his, Medora and the pirates’ escape; and the final shipwreck are all over in a flash.
Sometimes it’s good to be deeply meaningful and serious, but sometimes it’s good to just let the hair down, go over the top and have fun. On a cold, wet, winter’s evening, Le Corsaire is just the job!
Le Corsaire continues to January 24. It can also be seen in Oman in March, and at the Palais Garnier, Paris in June. See www.ballet.org.uk for full details.