For I am a Pirate King!
Hurrah for our Pirate King!
And it is, it is a glorious thing
To be a Pirate King.
Sorry , but I just had to start with the above from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. Conrad our hero is a pirate and at times you could just imagine him and his band of followers singing this .
This is La Scala’s first staging of LE CORSAIR since the 19th century, where Giovanni Galzerani’s production was presented on the Piermarini stage in 1826, and Domenico Ronzani’s in 1857. Based on ‘The Corsair‘ by Lord Byron, the narrative follows a dashingly handsome pirate, Conrad (Timofej Andrijashenko), as he journeys across the high seas to save his love, the beautiful harem slave Medora (Nicoletta Manni).The work is packed with passion, action and romance. The antiquated ballet LE CORSAIR has an absolutely ridiculous plot but is a fabulous example of nineteenth century Russian ballet glitz and glamour, an excuse to showcase bravura spectacular dancing , and the dancing in this production is absolutely incredible , totally jaw dropping at times .
The work is exactly what Fokine was ranting against over a hundred years ago with the corps de ballet in ‘correct’ harem/pirate/slave girl /market seller /whatever costumes but the ballerinas in particular have several costumes changes and wear extremely ornate tutus (especially for the Le Jardin Anime scene in the third act) But that is Russian 19th Century ballet for you.
The Orchestra under the very energetic yet precise baton of Maestro Patrick Fournillier was in fine, boisterous form with a luxurious, rich tone.
Acclaimed Canadian Anna – Marie Holmes’ choreography based on Petipa and Sergeyev features notable similarities to the three big Tchaikovsky ballets (Swan Lake ,The Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker) in both the grand pas de deux and the ‘blocking ‘of the corps de ballet work , with its intricate patterns and formations ( especially for example in the Le Jardin Anime section heavily referencing the Garland Waltz from The Sleeping Beauty) which are at times rigidly controlled and precise.
There are also references to La Bayadere and Spartacus. Holmes’ choreography also requires many high ‘Bolshoi’ style lifts in the various pas de deux. It is all about the presentation of the ballerina .There is quite a bit of mime , some swordfighting, and there is much Victorian pantomime betrayal , as well as a Keystone Cops like chase and twists in the plot.
Spinatelli’s set designs are marvellous – turquoise for the Pasha’s palace and the Pirate lair has some marvellously textured rocky cliffs etc.There is most effective use of tromp l’oeil perspective especially for the Le Jardin Anime scene .The denouement with the dramatic shipwreck is very well staged.
The leading dancers in particular displayed some fabulous dancing, the men with their huge pantherine jumps and dazzling pirouettes, the women their strong, steely footwork, elegant line , beautiful epaulement and scintillating command. Our hero, the pirate Conrad, is amazingly danced by Timofej Andrijashenko.He is tall and blonde in the style of Peter Martins or David Hallberg and dazzles with his jetes and grande pirouettes for example as well as being a tremendous partner.
Nicoletta Manni as Medora was generally in blue, Martina Arduino as Gulnare, was usually in pink.Marko Agostino as Lankendam the villainous slave trader was devilishly impressive in red trousers. Bearded , dark Antonio Sutera was excellent as the treacherous Birbanto and Mattia Semperboni as Ali was stirringly impressive .The Pasha (Alessandro Grillo) is portrayed as a leonine ,leering lecherous fool. With its huge cast it can be a bit confusing at times even with the main leads.
What is interesting is that here the famous pas de deux – probably forever to be associated with Fonteyn and Nureyev – is here presented as a semi pas de trois, so in some ways possibly referencing the ‘original ‘ White Act pas de deux from Swan Lake with Benno , Prince Seigfried and Odette . It featured thrilling dancing from Manni , Andrijashenko and Semperboni who handled the scintillating solos and spectacular leaps and lifts magnificently.
If you want to see exceptional , thrilling dancing in a traditional 19th century ballet this is for you .
The La Scala Ballet’s production of LE CORSAIR screens at selected cinemas 22-27 June 2018.