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American Ballet Theatre

'Le Corsaire'

by Colleen Boresta

June 5(m) and 8(m), 2013 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

Anyone who attended a performance of American Ballet Theatre’s ‘Le Corsaire’ (which ran from June 4th through June 8th) was in for a swashbuckling good time. ABT’s new production is very much like their old ‘Le Corsaire’ except for costume and scenery changes. Besides the two outfits Medora wears in Act II, I much prefer the old costumes and even more the old scenery. ABT’s ‘Le Corsaire is staged by Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev.

‘Le Corsaire’ is the tale of a pirate chief named Conrad who falls in love with a slave, Medora, in 19th century Turkey. Medora and her friend, Gulnare, are sold by the bazaar owner, Lankendem, to the local pasha, Seyd. Conrad gets his pirates to steal Medora and kidnap Lankendem and many slave girls.

Conrad takes Medora, Lankendem and the slave girls to his lair. Medora pleads with Conrad to free all the slave girls and he agrees. This act infuriates Birbanto, another pirate who is supposed to be Conrad’s best friend. Birbano talks the other pirates into defying Conrad’s orders, but the pirate chief stops their mutiny. Birbanto persuades the pirates to kill Conrad and kidnap Medora. Conrad’s slave, Ali, however, arrives just as Birbanto is about to murder Conrad. Conrad is safe, but in the confusion Landenkem takes Medora and escapes from the pirate hideout.

At the pasha’s village, Medora is reunited with Gulnare. Leyd falls asleep and dreams that all his wives are beautiful flowers. Then Conrad, Birbanto and the other pirates arrive at Leyd’s palace disguised as pilgrims. Conrads rescues a very willing Medora and Birbanto tries to capture a most unwilling Gulnare. Medora tells Conrad that Birbanto tried to kill him so Conrad shoots Birbanto. Then the remaining pirates, along with Medora and Gulnare, escape in Conrad’s ship. A fierce storm attacks the ship and Conrad and Medora are the only survivors.

I attended two performances of ABT’s ‘Le Corsaire’ – the Wednesday matinee on June 5th and the Saturday matinee on June 8th. I enjoyed both performances immensely. The story is very silly, but if the dancing is good the ballet is tremendous fun.

At the Wednesday matinee, Marcelo Gomes is a high flying, swashbuckling pirate chief. On Saturday afternoon Ivan Vasiliev flies even higher and hangs suspended in the air while he is doing so. Gomes is known for the wonderful way he portrays each character he dances, but I am impressed with how comfortably Vasiliev fits into the skin of the pirate king.

Both Gillian Murphy at the June 5th matinee and Natalia Osipova on June 8th are superb Medoras. Osipova stands out for her incredibly high leaps with the plushest of landings. Her turns are performed at an absolutely dizzying pace. Murphy tosses off quadruple fouettes (along with very fast singles) as she puts her hands in a circle over her head. Her musicality and phrasing are beyond compare.

On Wednesday afternoon James Whiteside is Conrad’s slave, Ali. His dancing is fine, but it’s not up to the level of Angel Corella’s, Ivan Vasiliev’s or Daniil Simkin’s Alis. In the famous slave pas de trois, Whiteside’s dancing does not thrill me at all. At the Saturday matinee Daniil Simkin’s Ali is tremendously exciting. He steals the show with four revoltades in a row. Revoltades are turns where one leg flips over the other in midair. The extremely slight Simkin has no problems partnering Osipova in the slave pas de trois.

Both Steven McRae at the Wednesday matinee and Herman Cornejo on Saturday afternoon are wonderful Lankendems. Both are very strong in both their dancing and acting. I always expect great things from Cornjeo and he always delivers. His multiple air turns performed on a diagonal are especially impressive. I have never seen McRae before, so I did not know what to expect. On June 5th McRae gives the audience an incredible performance. He stands out for his great leaps and phenomenal turns. He even throws in some 540 degree turns during his second solo of the pas d’esclave in Act I. McRae is also a very strong partner – holding Misty Copeland’s Gulnare over his head with one hand.

Mikhail Ilyin is very good as Birbanto, the bad pirate, at the June 5th matinee. On Saturday afternoon, however, Craig Salstein brings his portrayal of the evil pirate to a whole new level. It’s not just Salstein dancing, which is superb, it’s his pitch perfect comic timing which makes the character of Birbanto so multi-layered. Right after the famous slave pas de trois, Birbanto begins a dance by firing off two pistols. Salstein fires the first gun, then looks at the audience, then looks back at the pistol and doesn’t fire it. Instead he fires it about one minute later. This comic bit is done perfectly. I love the way he lets the audience in on the joke. That makes this bit of business even funnier.

I am a bit disappointed with Misty Copeland’s Gulnare at the Wednesday matinee. She simplifies her solo during the pas d’esclave in Act I, totally omitting the fouettes performed on a diagonal. At Saturday’s matinee, Isabella Boylston is a wonderful Gulnare. Her traveling fouettes are crisp and precise. She has great soaring leaps and is beautifully lyrical in the Act III Jardin Anime. I hope Boylston will be made a principal dancer at ABT before too long.

‘Le Corsaire’ is such a fun ballet. I hope ABT continues to perform it for a long time to come.

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