‘Le Corsaire’, meaning ‘The Pirate’, is a ballet about adventure and the first clash of cymbals in the opening ensures the audience attention. With a swashbuckling chorus wave and rhythmical cross swords , to Adolphe Adam’s original score restored by Lars Payne, no one could have hoped for a more dramatic and engaging opening.
Based on Lord Bryon’s 19th century poem, the story centres around classic themes of friendship, betrayal and love. Our pirate hero Conrad must rescue his love Medora from a slave trader .When he is successful in this endeavour he is betrayed by his second in command, losing her once more and then vowing to save her again. Lord Bryon’s poems were particularly popular with his original audience due to their exotic settings and the 21st century audience were just as eager to be transported to the mysterious Middle East. The use of painted décor, screens and brightly coloured Swarovski encrusted costumes ensure that we are indeed completely immersed in the oriental atmosphere.
Our story starts in the marketplace with a very masculine introduction to the pirates who appear full of bravura and chutzpah as they master the challenging choreography. In contrast the Governor of the citadel, the Pasha, provides a light comedic element to the piece as he jiggles his rotund belly inciting gentle laughs from the audience, especially as he tries to unsuccessfully kiss Medora’s hand multiple times. Medora herself dressed in a lapis lazuli coloured two-piece is put forward more as a much-desired heroine rather than the traditional weak damsel in destress.
It is the second act, however, that fully steals the show. Conrad’s loyal slave Ali appears more like an ethereal sprite in his solo, seamlessly transitioning between jetés, pirouettes and lunges causing the audience to erupt into roaring applause and pure disbelief. Similar applause follows at the climax of Conrad, Medora and Ali’s pas de trois. As for Conrad and Medora’s famous pas de deux, there is genuine tenderness between the couple seen in moments when Medora leans her head back to receive a gentle kiss or whenever the dancers look into each other’s eyes. Pure love exaggerates the tragedy of the kidnap to follow.
The powerful ending with its dramatic escape, booming gunshot and shipwreck gave us the expectation, excitement and adventure that we have been promised.
English National Ballet
8 January-14 January
To book tickets, visit ballet.org.uk/le-corsaire or call the London Coliseum box office at 0207 845 9300
Review by Tanya Kovatchka, art student, aged 20
Image: English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire. Dancer: Brooklyn Mack © Jason Bell. Art Direction and Design Charlotte Wilkinson Studio