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American Ballet Theatre: Le Corsaire 2016

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American Ballet Theatre

Le Corsaire 2016

At the
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 1, 2016

(Read More ABT Reviews.)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on the Spring 2016 Season Ballet Music.)

Le Corsaire (1856, Paris; 1998, ABT): Staged by Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev, Music by Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, and Prince Oldenbourg, Music reorchestrated by Kevin Galie, Libretto by Jules-Henri de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier in a version by Anna-Marie Holmes, Based on “The Corsair” (1814) by Lord Byron, Sets and Costumes by Irina Tibilova, Additional Costume design by Robert Perdziola, Lighting by Mary Jo Dondlinger.

This sumptuous ballet takes place in Turkey. In a busy bazaar, slave girls are being traded, but a pirate, Conrad, falls in love with one, Medora, who is the object of desire of the Pasha, who has already bought her and her friend, Gulnare, from Lankendem, owner of the bazaar. Conrad and his pirates kidnap Lankendem and steal Medora. In Conrad’s grotto, after the infamous slave dance, Medora persuades him to free all the slave girls. Birbanto tries to thwart his master and help the pirates keep the slaves, and, after first losing one battle, he drugs his master with a potion on a rose. Medora saves her pirate from his mutinous men, and wounds Birbanto. After additional small battles, Conrad pursues Medora, now stolen by Lankendem.

Back at the Pasha’s palace, and within a dream garden, the Pasha delights in his purchased slaves, Medora and Gulnare, and dreams about all of his women in shades of pastel. When the Pasha invites some pilgrims into the palace, they are actually Conrad, Birbanto, and the pirates, and they reclaim Medora and Gulnare, who exposes Birbanto as a traitor. Conrad shoots his assistant, and Ali, the slave, helps Medora, Conrad, and Gulnare escape on a ship. A storm brews, and the ship sinks. Everyone perishes, but Conrad and Medora, who remain clinging to a rock, from the strength of their love. (ABT Program Notes).

Cast on May 31, 2016:

Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Herman Cornejo as Conrad, Craig Salstein as Birbanto, his friend, Jeffrey Cirio as Ali, the slave, Daniil Simkin as Lankendem, owner of the bazaar, Maria Kotchetkova as Medora, a young Greek woman, Sarah Lane as Gulnare, Medora’s friend, Victor Barbee as Seyd, Pasha of the Isle of Cos, Zhong-Jing Fang as Lead Pirate Woman, Skylar Brandt, Luciana Paris, Christine Shevchenko as Odalisques, Zhong-Jing Fang and Craig Salstein and Company in Pirates’ Dance and Forband, Patrick Frenette as Pasha’s Assistant, and the Company as Pirates, Pirate Women, Red Guards, Merchants, Bazaar Women, Pirates’ Dance, Forband, Women in Yellow, Women in Orange, Women in Red, Pasha’s Wives, and Children from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT.

Cast on June 1, 2016:

Conductor: Charles Barker, Performed by Mathias Heymann as Conrad, Arron Scott as Birbanto, his friend, Daniil Simkin as Ali, the slave, Gabe Stone Shayer as Lankendem, owner of the bazaar, Gillian Murphy as Medora, a young Greek woman, Stella Abrera as Gulnare, Medora’s friend, Victor Barbee as Seyd, Pasha of the Isle of Cos, Luciana Paris as Lead Pirate Woman, Melanie Hamrick, Katherine Williams, April Giangeruso as Odalisques, Luciana Paris and Arron Scott and Company in Pirates’ Dance and Forband, Kenneth Easter as Pasha’s Assistant, and the Company as Pirates, Pirate Women, Red Guards, Merchants, Bazaar Women, Pirates’ Dance, Forband, Women in Yellow, Women in Orange, Women in Red, Pasha’s Wives, and Children from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT.

It was thrilling to see Le Corsaire again, on two consecutive nights, with its virtuosic athletics for Conrad the pirate, Ali the Slave, and Medora, the “young Greek woman”, who’s constantly being sold as a slave with her friend Gulnare, before escaping amidst numerous adventures and a dream sequence. On the 31st, the audience was vocally enthused with Herman Cornejo’s incredibly propulsive leaps, close-body spins, and rapid leg twirls, in the role of Conrad. Partnering Maria Kotchetkova, although their chemistry is elusive, he and Ms. Kotchetkova were well matched for physicality and ebullience. Ms. Kotchetkova has technical prowess but needs to work on inherent dramatization. Sarah Lane, in contrast, as Gulnare, was effervescent throughout, breathtaking in her partnered dances, exuding pathos and yearning in her theatrical moments of capture and escape. As Ali the slave, a pivotal role in all ballet repertoire, with featured solos that often appear in galas and festivals, Jeffrey Cirio was fully confident and poised. He’s not what we recall with memories of past Alis, such as Carreño, Corella, and Cornejo, in Ballet Theatre’s golden days. In time, Mr. Cirio will add more technical fire power to his aerobic and athletic solos, especially those for which the audience waits with baited breath. Daniil Simkin, as Lankendem, the bazaar owner, who demands bags of coins for Medora and Gulnare, was appropriately wicked, seething, and, as always, balanced. Craig Salstein, as Birbanto, Conrad’s deceptive and conniving friend, was also in predictably fine form, seizing the stage in the Pirates’ Dance and the “Forband” with Zhong-Jing Fang, the lead pirate woman. Victor Barbee, who will soon be leaving Ballet Theatre for another company leadership role, was precious and outstanding as the bumbling Seyd, pasha of the isle of Cos.

On the 1st, the audience was astounded with the one-night guest artist, Mathias Heymann, from The Paris Opera Ballet, in the role of Conrad, partnering Gillian Murphy as Medora. Ms. Murphy is ever so eloquent and exquisite, more so each year, but it seemed that Mr. Heymann might have been better showcased with a virtuosic young Soloist, matched for his spontaneity. Ms. Murphy is a master ballet artist, a true prima ballerina, and Mr. Heymann is an international rising star. Ms. Murphy’s best partners have been David Hallberg (on extended leave), Marcelo Gomes, and, of course, her offstage partner, Ethan Stiefel. Tonight, in her solos, she was mesmerizing. Mr. Heymann, as well, in his solos, had primal leaps and dynamic presence, not only in motion but in mime, along with Arron Scott, who was Birbanto. In proof of his extraordinary talent, Daniil Simkin re-appeared tonight as Ali, where he was Lankendem the night before. His mid-air cartwheels, leaps, and flourishes were incredible. Gabe Stone Shayer, an understated but also virtuosic performer, was Lankendem tonight, grabbing money from the pasha (Mr. Barbee again) and slithering about. Mr. Scott was a fine Birbanto, and his “Pirates’ Dance” and “Forband” with Luciana Paris (as lead pirate woman) were lightning quick. Charles Barker conducted on both nights, keeping the mixed, Adam-Pugni-Delibes-Drigo-Oldenbourg score vivacious and fervent.

It appears from the program notes that the new 2013 scenic design by Christian Prego, costume design by Anibal Lapiz, and lighting design by Brad Fields have been replaced by the original, as noted above. In 2013 the ballet had been rejuvenated with the new sets, costumes, and lighting, but everything looked fine this week, regardless. Of particular note, in Soloist and Corps roles, the three Odalisques on the 31st, Skylar Brandt, Sarah Lane, and Christine Shevchenko, were superior to the cast on the 1st, just for nuanced gesture, even in side-stage, off-moments. Their musical momentum and poise were notable. Also on the 31st, Patrick Frenette, as Pasha’s Assistant, was magnetic with persona, and on the same night the eight-man cast for the Pirates was superior, as it included Calvin Royal, Gabe Stone Shayer, Zhiyao Zhang, and Blaine Hoven. Kudos to the children from the JKO Ballet School for their stunning Jardin Animé dancing with floral hoops. And, Kudos to all.

Maria Kochetkova and Herman Cornejo
in "Le Corsaire"
Courtesy of MIRA

Stella Abrera in "Le Corsaire"
Courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at