Le Corsaire, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2016

English National Ballet’s Corsaire marks a tremendous achievement for Tamara Rojo since her appointment as artistic director less than four years ago.

Conrad the Corsaire, all images ENO/ Laurent Liotardo

Conrad the Corsaire, all images ENO/ Laurent Liotardo

The staging by Anna-Marie Holmes, complemented by Gavin Sutherland’s musical rearrangement, provides thrilling male choreography fully realised in this performance by the four principal male dancers. Ms Rojo has brought in men well outside the usual English tradition, and in sheer exuberance and technique this display of dancing can hardly be bettered by the Royal Ballet.

The story itself is a mid-nineteenth century Russian invention, originally to music by Adolphe Adam, involving an Ottoman seraglio, slave traders, pirates and two beautiful young women. Loosely based on Byron’s poem of the same name, the two have little more than the exotic background and main characters in common, but the excellent synopsis in the programme is rendered almost superfluous by the well-expressed mime, movement and facial expression. Glorious designs and costumes by Bob Ringwood evoke a lost world of Ottoman wealth and dissolution, and the final shipwreck leading to an apotheosis for Conrad and Medora is beautifully achieved.

Gulnare and slave trader Lankendem

Gulnare and slave trader Lankendem

In the meantime the music starts with a bang and individual performances are sometimes out of this world. Wonderful dancing and partnering by guest artist Osiel Gouneo as pirate chief Conrad with Tamara Rojo so beautifully musical as his beloved Medora, and exceptional solos by Cesar Corrales as Conrad’s slave Ali. In Act II the stunning sequences by Medora and Ali brought cheers from the audience and the beautiful pas-de-deux by Conrad and Medora was full of joyous energy.

Conrad's slave Ali

Conrad’s slave Ali

Act II is where Conrad’s second in command, Birbanto falls out with him, giving a focus to the drama, and Yonah Acosta played this role to perfection. With guest artist Brooklyn Mack giving a stunningly physical performance as slave trader Lankendem the four solo male dancing roles were a feast of precision and panache, and Michael Coleman as a bearded Sepp Blatter in Ottoman disguise made a delightful Pasha.

The Pasha's dream

The Pasha’s dream

Lauretta Summerscales as his slave Gulnare was wonderfully playful in Act III, and when the Pasha falls into his opium induced sleep the lovely performance of the female ensemble provides a super contrast to the powerful male dancing. Ksenia Ovsyanick, Alison McWhinney and Shiori Kase made very fine odalisques in Act I, with Crystal Costa as a delightfully saucy lead villager, the four of them reappearing in Act III as Roses in the dream scene.

Escape before the storm, image by ASH

Escape before the storm, image by ASH

Altogether a feast of dancing, with Gavin Sutherland bringing out the thrill of the eclectic music — a tapestry woven from threads by numerous composers. His conducting allowed the music to breath while adapting the tempi to individual dancers. Marvellous.

Performances with various casts continue until January 21 — for details click here.

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