Le Corsaire

Le Corsaire
Victorian State Ballet. The Concourse, Chatswood. March 17 and 18, 2018

Le Corsaire – or A Pirate’s Tale – is a ballet in three acts based on a poem by Lord Byron. The story is short and simple. Shipwrecked pirates Conrad and Birbanto, and a slave, Ali, are found on the shore by Medora and Gulnare. Conrad falls in love with Medora, Ali with Gulnare. Unfortunately the maidens are captured by Lankendam, a slave trader, and sold to a Turkish Pasha for his harem. The pirates search for the maidens and eventually rescue them despite betrayal by Birbanto. Medora, Conrad, Gulnare and Ali escape by sea but a storm erupts and only Medora and Conrad survive.

Rather than for the depth of its story, the ballet is famous for the beauty of the dancing. First presented in 1856 to the music of Adolphe Adam, with original choreography by Joseph Mazilier, and later Marius Petipa, the ballet has become famous because so many excerpts of the choreography are presented at galas and concerts around the world.

Over the years composers Cesare Pugni, Leo Delies, Ricardo Drigo and Prince Oldenburg added to the breadth and depth of the music – and this presentation by Victorian State Ballet celebrates the Australian premiere of the full version of the ballet.

Choreographer (and Co-Director of the company) Michelle Cassar de Sierra has been true to the original choreography, whilst also “bringing something fresh and new, reflecting today’s classical ballet standards”. The famous Grand Pas de Trois and the Odalisques Pas de Trois she sees as “timeless” and are presented in their original form. The bazaar, pirate and slave scenes have been re-choreographed to empahasise the work and talent of the corps de ballet.

In so doing, De Sierra has created a stunningly beautiful performance that highlights the skill and training of the dancers – and her esteem for the ballet itself. Not only has she accentuated the beauty of the traditional choreography, she has created group sequences that extend the story and underscore the breadth and talent of the company.

The libretto of the ballet lends itself to colour and fun, and this is reflected in the stunning costumes de Sierra has used. Vibrant colours, shiny sequins and elaborately decorated tutus add to the spectacle of the whole production.

Soloists Rebeka Petty and Elise Jacques lead the performance as Medora and Gunare. Slight and poised, they execute the exacting choreography with elegance and grace. William Douglas performs as Conrad, Sean Williams as Birbanto and Harry Davis as Ali. Cieren Edinger is the wicked slave trader, Lankendam and Anthony Craig brings humour to the production as a funny, lecherous, Pasha.

Sequences such as thesolos in apas d’action of dances in Act 2, highlight the athleticism and precision of the male dancers and the execution of the Grand Pas de Trois and the Odalisques Pas de Trois pay reverent homage to the classical choreography of Mazilier and Petipa. The Garland dance in Act 3 involves not only the full female corps, but young dancers from Sydney, who must have thrilled honoured to be part of this production.

De Sierra explains that Le Corsaire is popular with dancers because it “celebrates” male dancers who perform extremely technical solos that include high jumps and complicated turns and lifts; and includes solos and pas de deux that are technically challenging for ballerinas.

It is, she says, “a ballet feast where dancers can be unleashed to go beyond their boundaries”.

Carol Wimmer

Photographer: Ron Fung

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