Kirov Ballet - 'Le Corsaire'
by Catherine Pawlick
December 19, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
“Le Corsaire”, a three-act ballet based on the poem by George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), is a bold, colorful, fantastic adventure that the Kirov pulls off with full theatricality. It is a two-and-a-half hour journey that remains fresh with its onstage shipwreck, a slave-trading bazaar, swashbuckling pirates, gunfire and beautiful women.
First performed by London’s Royal Ballet in 1837, the Russian premiere of “Le Corsaire” took place in St. Petersburg in January 1858, but the ballet was “edited” several times afterwards, first by Joseph Mazilla and then by Peter Guseva, based on Marius Petipa’s 1863 composition. The current version debuted in 1987 and continues to be performed by the Kirov at home and abroad. Two themes remain prevalent in both the libretto and the choreography: that of the storm, and the rescue.
The choreography echoes the storm theme well into the ballet: renverse’s are plentiful in Act Two, and the double line of dancers set on a diagonal with a swaying motion forward and back implies a rocky sea. As far as the libretto goes, Medora rescues Conrad after his shipwreck, and he rescues her back from the slave traders – twice.
In Sunday’s performance, Ilya Kuznetsov appeared as Conrad, the leading pirate, and danced superbly in his role. Recent performances reveal Kuznetsov as increasingly able to emote and act in tangible manner, and this performance was no exception. In the third act’s romantic pas de deux with Medora, danced by Sofia Gumerova, he shook his head in disbelief at her beauty, fully enraptured, the soulmate to this woman who saved him. His split jetes drew several “bravo”s from audience members, and his tall, muscular form lent itself well to the pirate role.
Ali, his sidekick-support buddy, was danced freshly by Dmitri Semionov. A relatively new face on the Kirov stage, his dancing was strong, if a bit on the shy side compared to others, such as Ruzimatov, who have claimed roles like this as their own. His variation included the airborne double-passe tour ending on one knee (rather than just a lunge), and his turns a la seconde were done to the left rather than to the right.
Gumerova came out of her shell in this performance, moreso than she has in others. Her variation had a softness and femininity to it, with a welcome sense of warmth. Her double pique turn (extending into developpe derriere) was expertly done.
Irina Zhelonkina danced a strong, if unimpressive Gulnara. Her talent lies in her ability to complete the choreography without visible effort. Nonetheless she isn’t this reviewers preference when it comes to the Kirov females, and one could say that Gumerova stood out, in comparison.
The Odalisque trio was danced with exuberance by Ekaterina Osmolkina, Daria Sukhorukova and Irina Golub. Sukhorukova towered over the other two ballerinas, her height making it somewhat difficult to transmit the appropriate pauses in the choreography. The result was a variation that, while beautifully done, was one long phrase instead of several short ones. Golub dances with a center that is rock-solid and her jumps and turns proved it. Osmolkina managed some triple assembles in her variation, displaying a light exuberance.
In sum, as with any ballet, while casting can influence the overall impression of “Le Corsaire”, there are enough other distractions in the plot and choreography to keep one delightfully entertained. It will be interesting to watch what other dancers have to offer these roles in the coming months.
Mikhail Agrest conducted.
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