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American Ballet Theatre

'Le Corsaire'

by Colleen Boresta

July 7, 2012 (m) -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, NY

There was ballet magic at the Metropolitan Opera House on July 7, 2012 (the matinee). American Ballet Theatre is presenting their rollicking version of “Le Corsaire”, staged by Anna Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev. “Le Corsaire” is the story of a pirate, Conrad, who falls in love with a slave girl named Medora in 19th century Turkey. Medora and her best friend, Gulnare, are sold by the bazaar owner, Lankendem, to the local Pasha. Conrad tells his slave, Ali, to steal Medora and Conrad’s pirates raid the Turkish village and kidnap Lankendem and many other slave girls.

Conrad takes Medora, Lenkendem and the slave girls to his hideout. Medora begs Conrad to free all the slave girls and he agrees. This enrages Birbanto, another pirate who is supposedly Conrad’s best friend. Birbanto convinces the other pirates to rebel against Conrad, but the head pirate easily puts down their mutiny. Birbanto then convinces the pirate band to kill Conrad and kidnap Medora. Conrad’s slave, Ali, interrupts Birbanto’s plan to murder Conrad. In the confusion, Landenkem steals Medora back and escapes from Conrad’s lair.

Back at the Pasha’s village, Medora is reunited with Gulnare. The Pasha falls asleep and dreams that all his female slaves are beautiful flowers. Then Conrad, Birbanto and the other pirates arrive at the Turkish village disguised as pilgrims. Conrad takes back a very willing Medora and Birbanto tries to capture Gulnare. Medora tells Conrad that Birbanto tried to kill him, so Conrad shoots Birbanto. Conrad, his pirates plus Medora and Gulnare escape in the pirate ship. Suddenly a fierce storm blows in and the only survivors are Conrad and Medora.

All the dancers in ABT’s July 7th matinee of “Le Corsaire” perform at a very high level. It seems that they are inspiring each other to go beyond what they have done before. The most remarkable performance comes from Ivan Vasiliev who plays Conrad’s slave, Ali. I have seen some magnificent Alis in ABT’s production of “Le Corsaire” – Ethan Stiefel, Jose Manuel Carreno and especially Angel Corella – but none of them can compare with Vasiliev’s slave. His pirouettes, scissor jumps and stag leaps are all higher and faster than I have ever seen. Vasieliev also performs several astounding steps that are totally new to me. I don’t even know what to call them. All I can say is that Vasiliev’s solos in the slave pas de deux contain the most exciting movements I have observed in my 30 plus years of attending ballets. As well he stays wonderfully in character as the devoted slave Ali.

Several other dancers deserve mention as well. Irina Dvorovenko’s Medora stands out for her magnificently high jetes, glorious extensions and lightning quick chaine turns. Her fouettes in the slave pas de deux are incredibly fast singles and she only travels a tiny bit at the end of this series of turns. Gennadi Saveliev is a high flying, swashbuckling lead pirate. He throws in a few perfect 540 degree turns during the slave pas de deux and also during one of his solos in Act III.
This is Saveliev’s final performance with ABT and he is retiring with his technique just as splendid as ever. His chemistry with Dvorovenko’s Medora is palpable and Saveliev is fully committed to the role of Conrad. My only question is why Saveliev was never promoted to principal status at ABT. He is a dancer who will truly be missed.

As Lankendem, Jared Matthews’ dancing has improved greatly since I saw him perform the role in 2009. Matthews’ acting is even better than his dancing. He fully inhabits the role of the rascally bazaar owner and slave trader. Yuriko Kajiya’s Gulnare is beautifully lyrical in the Act III jardin anime. Her traveling fouettes in Act I’s pas d’esclave, however, lack crispness and precision. Arron Scott’s Birbanto is passionately evil, dancing with great leaps and wonderfully clean footwork.

The plot of “Le Corsaire” is very silly, but with performances so fantastic the storyline doesn’t matter. I hope ABT continues to dance “Le Corsaire” at such a high level for many years to come.

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