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American Ballet Theatre

'Le Corsaire'

by Lori Ibay

June 24, 2005 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

It wasn’t quite the fourth of July yet, but there were certainly fireworks inside the Metropolitan Opera House on Friday evening’s performance of “Le Corsaire,” thanks to a spectacular cast featuring Marcelo Gomes as Conrad, Carlos Lopez as Birbanto, Sascha Radetsky as Lankendem, and Mr. Fireworks himself, Carlos Acosta, as Ali the Slave.  The high-flying men were joined by soloists Michele Wiles and Maria Riccetto showing off their skills in the leading roles of Medora and Gulnare, respectively.

The action began with Radetsky firing off easy quadruple pirouettes with as much command and control as his character Lankendem held over the slave girls he was selling at the bazaar.  In seamless (and seemingly effortless) pas de deux with Gulnare and Medora, his grace and charm helped to sell the beautiful slave women to the hilarious Pasha (played by Victor Barbee), and between airy double tours and grand jetes, Radetsky’s mime revealed Lankendem’s avarice.

The air show continued with Lopez playing a fiery Birbanto, the first pirate the audience met, soaring onto the stage with graceful leaps and distinctive flair.  His intense, scheming character was exposed mostly in Act II, when Lopez also showed off his own acrobatics and technical skills with lofty grand jetes and quick pirouettes as he energetically led the lively pirate dance (with lead Pirate Woman, Jennifer Alexander) and roused the other pirates to revolt against Conrad.

Gomes was a passionate, sensitive, and loveable hero -- sweet, strong, and tender in his pas de deux with Medora, with long, graceful lines and wonderfully powerful lifts -- but a firm and fearless leader of the pirates, with attitude and flair.  His athletic, forceful leaps had so much fuel in them that he nearly ran out of space on the stage (and almost knocked over a few corps members near the wings). 

Opposite him, Wiles’s Medora was equally strong and spirited.  Lovely and graceful in the pas de deux segments, her supported pirouettes seemed to never run out of momentum.  In Act II, she tossed easy double pirouettes into her fouette sequence; she displayed her poise and balance in the Act III dream sequence; and during quick footwork segments, she looked like she was thoroughly enjoying herself -- proving herself ready and capable to take on principal roles.

As Medora’s friend, Gulnare, Riccetto made easy work of the difficult footwork segments, smoothly executing a series of hops on pointe, and maintaining impeccable timing in an uptempo run of pirouettes and fouettes. 

The Odalisques -- Melanie Hamrick, Maria Bystrova, and Veronika Part -- made a valiant effort at the challenging Act I feature, but were slightly off in their timing of the unison segments, which was especially apparent when landing tour jetes and other leaps at different times.  Individually, there were struggles to stay ahead of the beat, as well as rushing steps in anticipation of the quick tempo, and overall the rapid footwork could have been crisper and cleaner.

The women’s corps spent much of its time as the captured slave women and bazaar goers, but were dainty and graceful as the Pasha’s wives in the Act III dream sequence, and animated and energetic as the pirate women in Act II.  The men’s corps was feisty as the guards, merchants, and especially as the pirates -- and though their swords didn’t always clash exactly on cue, they were always vivacious and full of enthusiasm.

And lastly -- because he left the most lasting impression of the evening -- Carlos Acosta was breathtaking, literally, as Ali the Slave.  From his first entrance in Act I when he seemed to land directly out of the sky with a stunning leap, to his incredible acrobatics in Act II, Acosta’s performance was absolutely mesmerizing. 

In brilliant dramatic style, Acosta pirouetted with such force that it seemed as though he might drill a hole in the stage and executed leaps that don’t even have names and may never have been done before.  I can’t remember the last time an entire audience (including myself) gasped, and marveled, and shouted out loud, nor can I recall an instance when a single dancer’s performance in a single act seemed worth the price of admission.

Although individual talents were on display on Friday evening, the strength of the entire leading cast -- with four spectacular soloists in principal roles -- reaffirmed that American Ballet Theatre’s cup of talent is full to overflowing.  It is performances like these that remind us that dance can quicken the pulse and move the spirit -- and that keep us coming back to the City Center and the Metropolitan Opera House season after season.


Edited by Staff.

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