Marcelo Gomes, Carlos Lopez, Angel Corella, Herman Cornejo, Gillian Murphy, Xiomara Reyes, Victor Barbee, Marian Butler, Maria Riccetto, Kristi Boone, Veronika Part
It may sound like heresy, but I’m surely not the first person to think it.
New York’s American Ballet Theatre may be one of the greatest ballet companies in the world, but, rather like the New York Metropolitan Opera, it is far from being the most innovative.
And yet, perhaps for this very reason, its production of Adolphe Adam’s Le Corsaire the second ballet it has brought to the Coliseum this spring following Swan Lake last week is something of a success.
Directed in this instance by Anne-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev, there is little escaping the fact that the ballet’s plot is trite.
Set on the Isle of Cos it depicts pirates and princes fighting over slave girls, and focuses on the pirate king Conrad’s struggle to steal his love, Medora, away from the isle’s pasha, Seyd.
The story is little more than a forum for presenting a series of dances, most of which are solo or small ensemble numbers, although ‘chorus’ dances featuring swashbuckling pirates or ladies with garlands of flowers do appear. I could picture English National Ballet attempting to inject such a silly piece with a huge dose of ‘post-modern’ irony, and potentially falling flat on its face in the process. American Ballet Theatre, on the other hand, seemed ideally suited to playing the ballet straight down the board, and, perhaps surprisingly, it worked!
As a rule, the male principals fared better than the women. Whilst the latter struggled to make the most of their elegant, but hardly imaginative, steps, the men could prevail simply by putting sufficient panache into their dancing. Here, Marcelo Gomes stole the show as Conrad, a wily figure with a foreboding presence but slightly comic edge, whilst Carlos Lopez as his sidekick, Birbanto, demonstrated much flexibility in his movement. Nevertheless, Gillian Murphy as Medora held her own, applying a certain precociousness to her dancing, which suited the character of this alluring figure.
In this respect, Act Two stood out as the dancing of Gomes, Murphy and Angel Corella as the slave Ali reached its zenith. With Murphy delivering a superb sequence of fouett turns, much of the choreography seemed reminiscent of Act Three of Swan Lake, even though the original Le Corsaire precedes that work by at least twenty years.
Minor innovations were also apparent in Act One, where the backdrop depicting a Turkish city emulated Louis Lozowick’s iconic print of the New York skyline, and Act Three, where the image of figures running across the stage as they fled Seyd’s palace seemed reminiscent of the final scene of The Seventh Seal. The Orchestra of English National Opera, under the baton Charles Baker, may not have excelled in its own right, but its playing more than amply supported the dancers on stage.
All in all, Le Corsaire is not a great ballet and your life will probably lack little if you never get to experience it. But since it is so seldom performed in Britain, if you are interested in seeing it, you’d be well advised to head to the Coliseum without delay. After all, it will surely be a long time before another production of the ballet comes to London that might come close to rivalling this.
Read the musicOMH review of American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake