Le Corsaire, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, August 2010

This ballet, like Verdi’s opera Il Corsaro, is inspired by Byron’s poem The Corsair, but although the names of the main characters are the same, the plot of the ballet is very different. The poem inspired several choreographers and composers until in 1856, Joseph Mazilier presented it at the Paris Opéra to music by Adolphe Adam. There were later additions by other composers, and in the 1860s, Marius Petipa produced a new version, which towards the end of the century included some excellent music by Riccardo Drigo for an Act III pas-de-deux by two slaves.

The slave pas-de-deux but with other dancers, photo by Elena Fetisova

In 2007 the Bolshoi brought forth this new production with Petipa’s choreography partly recreated by Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka, and extra music by Uncle Tom Cobley and all: Tchaikovsky, Delibes, Minkus, among them. Some of this music was part of Petipa’s 1899 version, but most was surely not, and the trouble is that it lacks focus. The whole evening lasted until 10:55, but if you’re inclined to leave before the end, I recommend staying for the very effective final scene of Act III, which shows the pirate ship in a storm. In the midst of a fight on board, the ship breaks up, but Conrad and his lover Medora do not die — this is a happy ending as they make it to shore, looking wonderful.

As for the dancing, some of it was very good, and I liked Vitaly Biktimirov as the rebellious Corsaire, Birbanto. He was absolutely on the music, as was one of the three girls in the pas-de-trois of the odalisques — I think it was Anna Leonova — but being on the music is not one of the Bolshoi’s strong points. The conductor Pavel Klinichev could have helped by keeping up the tempo, but he frequently went at a snail’s pace, particularly in the solos, and Act II was dire in this respect. Lovely costumes and sets, but when I sit at the ballet I want to see dancing, not a series of poses. Excitement was sadly lacking, and the soloists seemed to expect more applause than they received during the performance. Although I liked the sets they did not suit the Covent Garden stage, leaving less than an ideal space for dancing, even with the proscenium arch widened to its full extent. The stage is very deep but the sets seemed designed more for width than depth.

The main roles of Conrad and Medora were danced by Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Maria Alexandrova, with Marianna Ryzhkina as Gulnare, and the slave pas-de-deux was danced by Ivan Vasiliev and Nina Kaptsova, so it should have been terrific, but the slow tempo of Kilinichev’s conducting did not allow it.

After seeing an excellent Spartacus when the Bolshoi opened their London season, this was a let-down, but I look forward to a thrilling Don Quixote, which I have seen this company do before to great effect.

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