Loosely based on a poem by Lord Byron, our hero is the pirate Conrad, who leads his crew to Ottoman lands to rescue his beloved Medora from the slave trader Lankendem.
Many adventures later, Conrad and Medora escape the clutches of the greedy Lankendem, the lecherous old Pasha who briefly added Medora to his glamorous harem, and the treacherous pirate Birbanto, and are reunited for ever – and we all go home with a smile on our faces and a spring in our step.
One of the classic 19th-century Petipa ballets, Le Corsaire has undergone a number of makeovers; the version presented by English National Ballet is staged by Anna-Marie Holmes, to a score which assembles music by a variety of composers, including Adam, Delibes and Drigo, played live with gusto by the English National Ballet Philharmonic conducted by Gavin Sutherland.
It starts with an almighty clash of cymbals and then the curtain goes up to reveal a pirate ship at sea. The illusion is superb: the ship, its huge sail battered by strong winds, weaves its way through high waves, swaying and groaning and finally making it to port.
On dry land we enter the spectacular exotic East of fevered European imagination: a boisterous sun-drenched public square, peopled by merchants, slave girls and smiling villagers, the Pasha’s palace behind tall latticed gates, all re-imagined through Bob Ringwood’s glorious sets and costumes (no stinting on glitter or rhinestones).
Artists of English National Ballet In Le Corsaire. Photo: ASH
But what of the dancing? English National Ballet are the only UK company to perform this work in its entirety, and they’ve made it very much their own, showing off the artistry of a company that’s been going from strength to strength under Tamara Rojo’s directorship.
Le Corsaire offers scrumptious parts for principals, soloists and corps de ballet; on opening night all acquitted themselves exceedingly well. The corps were as one, their precision particularly impressive in Act III’s Jardin Animé scene, the old Pasha’s opium dream.
As soloists, Adela Ramirez was a vivacious and fetching Lead Villager; Precious Adams, Alison McWhinney and Julia Conway let their own personalities shine as the Odalisques.
And so we come to the principals. As Conrad, the handsome Italian Francesco Gabriele Frola took to the air with relish, if not always perfect control, devouring space and very much playing to the crowd – as he should.
ENB, Le Corsaire: Francesco Gabriele Frola as Conrad. © Laurent Liotardo
Frola was a solid partner to Erina Takahashi’s Medora, a mix of delicate and feisty, with safe balances, meticulous footwork and flowing arms. Together with the lithe, athletic Jeffrey Cirio as Ali, they dazzled in the centrepiece of this ballet, a pas d’action in Act II, which has become better known as the party piece of galas all over the world streamlined as Le Corsaire pas de deux.
Special mention must be made of Shiori Kase, who came close to stealing the show as Medora’s friend Gulnare. Kase is an immensely expressive dancer with steely technique; and her solos as a sassy, resourceful young woman brought us the most perfect dancing of a night where all dancing was commendable.
|What||English National Ballet, Le Corsaire review|
|Where||London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, , London , WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
08 Jan 20 – 14 Jan 20, 19:30 Sat & Tue mat 14:00 Dur.: 2 hours 25 mins inc two intervals
|Website||Click here to book|