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by Ana Abad-Carles
July 30, 2007 -- London Coliseum, London, UK
Archaeological research in dance is not a very accurate science, as there are no existing records of what any of the works actually looked like at the time they premiere. So, when a director attempts a “reconstruction” of a ballet we should take this with a grain of salt.
Alexei Ratmansky’s new production of “Le Corsaire” for the Bolshoi Ballet is full of historical references and reconstructions from the surviving notated sources, interspersed with new choreographic material provided by Ratmansky himself. The result is a very long, highly enjoyable piece that lacks dramatic substance and radically departs from the version the Kirov brought to London years ago. Byronic in look and content, a bit more Romantic flair could have enhanced the overall style.
The opening night Coliseum cast was led by Svetlana Zakharova as Medora, Denis Matvienko as Conrad, Ekaterina Shipulina as Gulnara and Andrei Merkuriev as Birbanto.
Though the action is not very clear to the viewer from the start, the first act is beautifully presented in terms of costumes and dances, and contains some familiar passages, such as the Pas des Esclaves, performed on this occasion by the young Ivan Vassiliev partnering Nina Kaptsova. Though the main adagio was cut out, the entrance, main variations and coda were performed with great style by Kaptsova and obvious explosive zest by Vassiliev, who ended his variation behind another character somewhere in the wings! Expectations were running high for Vassiliev and the pressure showed in his brief performance. A young likeable dancer, he did not manage to leave that lasting impression of a great dancer in the making. Sure, his ballon is remarkable, his enthusiasm contagious, but it will be interesting to see him in other roles before proclaiming him the next company star. Kaptsova danced her part with great style and carefully nuanced musical phrasing.
The leads were also beautifully danced, with both Matvienko and Merkuriev looking stunning as the young heroes of the story and Zakharova displaying total command of the technical choreographic challenges, though not much shading nor radiance in its execution.
The famous pas de trois in the Kirov version was, we are told now, apparently and after all, a pas de deux… Not that it makes much difference, really. It was danced with bravura on Conrad’s part and sweetness by Medora, so there were no big departures there. Some audience members missed the male traditional costume for this particular piece as it seems that, viewed from above, Conrad’s jumps are not easily appreciated because his short Turkish skirt hides the line from view. And there was much to appreciate indeed! Matvienko performed steps that I don’t think are even named in any conventional dictionary of ballet technique.
The second act presented more familiar material in unusual settings. The pas de trois for the Odalisques was a highlight of the evening in terms of pure classical dancing. The three dancers sailed through their variations (though the series of brisés volés could be improved) but it was Natalia Osipova who got the ovation from the audience with her breathtaking jump, assured technique and command of the stage.
“Le Jardin Animé” was, for me the most problematic aspect of the whole production. Crammed amongst hedges, flower pots and what not, the beauty of the scene was hard to discern. There was no space for the choreography to breathe, no room for the dancers to execute their movements with the necessary grandeur as in the Kirov’s performance of this scene. Of course, if one bears in mind that this production will go onto the Bolshoi stage, it seems obvious that this problem will cease to exist on that vast stage, but on the Coliseum it hindered the dance. Zakharova was correct in her variations, but there was no projection and no radiance in her dancing. One wished for Asylmuratova and other Kirov ballerinas in this part.
The last act culminated in the famous shipwreck, that, once again, became a highlight of the ballet. Some things never change! It was a magnificent shipwreck, it has to be said, with full use of the latest technological advances currently at the disposal of theatres.
Overall the ballet was good, but not extraordinary. There was not enough dancing and the choreography was not as inspired as other reconstructions of classical ballets. The story line was somehow subdued by very flat dramatic action and characterisation (though I have been informed that with other casts, this improved enormously). It was definitely long, and yet provided a good sampling of what the Bolshoi has to offer. It seems the company has no shortage of young talent rising through the ranks and the corps de ballet looked stunning!
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