After seeing the Kirov’s Le Corsaire on Saturday afternoon, I thought it was about time I read the Byron original to see just how much of Byron remains in the ballet.
Well, the names are the same: Conrad, Medora and Gulnare and the location is the same too i.e. somewhere in the Greek islands and there is also a Pasha, but that’s it. Byron’s Conrad is a brooding complex figure who seems to bear more than a little resemblance to Lord B. himself
“Sunburnt his cheek, his forehead high and pale
The sable curls in wild profusion veil”
And personality wise:
“There was a laughing devil in his sneer
That raised emotions both of rage and fear”
The story: Conrad the corsair, plans a raid on the palace of his old enemy the Pasha and distracts the Pasha from the imminent attack by posing as a pilgrim lately escaped from Conrad’s pirate lair. (That bit at least sounds familiar) On being rumbled Conrad fights his way free to signal his men to attack (can’t you just picture Errol Flynn at this point?). The pirates land and destroy everything they see, but as they proceed to burn the palace they hear the screams of the Pasha’s women, trapped in the Harem. Conrad leads the rescue and carries the beautiful Gulnare, the Pasha’s favourite, to safety through the flames. The Pasha’s troops counter-attack though and Conrad is taken prisoner. While locked in a prison tower and awaiting death by torture, Conrad is visited by Gulnare who has fallen in love with him, but Conrad is faithful to his wife, Medora. Gulnare then bribes the guards and herself stabs the Pasha to death. Although he is appalled by what she has done, Gulnare has saved Conrad from certain death and they escape together to his island lair. En route Conrad rewards Gulnare with a kiss. When he reaches home however he discovers Medora has died, presumably of sorrow on hearing of his capture. Conrad is distraught with grief and simply disappears never to be seen again.
“He left a corsair’s name to other times,
Link’d with one virtue and a thousand crimes.”
Out of that they made a ballet, but where all those slave girls and the shipwreck came from I don’t know, certainly not from Byron. The fact that Le Corsaire is credited with no fewer than five composers matters not a jot to me as in my opinion there is little to beat those 19th century hacks when it came to a good tune. I genuinely love them all. So I go to watch the ballet in a sit back and enjoy mode and the measure of my enjoyment rests solely on how well the ballet is danced.
The performance on Saturday afternoon featured a new face in the role of Medora. Tatiana Tkachenko is a mere twenty years or so and seemed to relish the opportunity of portraying the ballet’s heroine. An unusually attractive girl, Tkachenko is ideal for this role and brings a glamour to it, which is just what this ballet needs. She has an admirably strong technique too and it wasn’t difficult for her to dominate the performance as none of the other featured dancers seemed to be projecting much personality on this occasion, perhaps on the last day of what must have been a fevered schedule for them they were starting to display the strain.