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American Ballet Theatre: Le Corsaire 2008
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American Ballet Theatre: Le Corsaire 2008

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American Ballet Theatre

Le Corsaire
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Rachel S. Moore, Executive Director
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters:
Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova, Georgina Parkinson
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
Susan Morgan, Press Associate

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 26, 2008

(Read More ABT Reviews)

Le Corsaire (1856, Paris; 1998, ABT): Choreography by Konstantin Sergeyev, after Marius Petipa, Staging by Anna-Marie Holmes after Petipa and 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 Design by Mary Jo Dondlinger.

Conductor: David LaMarche, Gennadi Saveliev as Conrad, Carlos Lopez as Birbanto, his friend, Joe Manuel Carreño as Ali, the slave, Herman Cornejo as Lankendem, owner of the bazaar, Gillian Murphy as Medora, Xiomara Reyes as Gulnare, Medora’s friend, Roman Zhurbin as Seyd, Pasha of the Isle of Cos, Karin Ellis-Wentz as Lead Pirate Woman, Maria Riccetto, Misty Copeland, and Renata Pavam as Odalisques, Karin Ellis-Wentz and Carlos Lopez 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.

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. (Program Notes).

At every ballet Gala and international competition, the Le Corsaire Pas de Trois, Pas de Deux, or Solo, all featuring Ali, the Slave, is the high point, and the test of male virtuoso ballet technique. But, there is no one ballet star who embodies the role of Ali, more than Jose Manuel Carreño. Tonight Mr. Carreño was in peak form, even stronger than he was dancing last season, and his bright aqua pants billowed in the windy whirl, as he sprung and twirled in wide circles and scissors-kicks about the stage in Act II, in the Grotto. I begin this review with Mr. Carreño’s bravura presentation as a frame for a bravura ballet, with three Acts of mixed music (five composers), Conrad, a pirate, Ali, the slave, Medora, a Greek woman, Gulnare, Medora’s friend, a Turkish bazaar, Lankendem, bazaar owner, bazaar women, pirates, pirate women, a Pasha, Pasha’s wives, Odalisques, children, and the women in the Pasha’s dream, in red, yellow, and orange.

Gennadi Saveliev was Conrad, lead pirate, who performs in that iconic Pas de Trois, with Medora (Gillian Murphy). Mr. Saveliev, like Mr. Carreño, has returned to peak technical form, even stronger than last season. In Conrad’s Variation, he excelled in dynamic explosion, with his own circular leaps about the stage. His dramatic intensity, which can be searing in tragic ballets, worked tonight in this comedic ballet to add depth to the Grotto scene, as he falls under the smell of a medicated rose. Interacting here with Conrad is Birbanto, in an act of betrayal, and Carlos Lopez astutely drives this conflict with Hollywood-like results, daggers and all. Mr. Carreño dashes in and out of scenes as Medora and her friend, Gulnare, had been sold to the Pasha, Seyd, and he wants them back. There’s much back and forth of slaves in and out of captivity, revenge, lust, and a ship that sinks. Conrad and Medora fall in love (again this is Hollywood-like) and survive the ship-wreck, clinging to a boulder in the sea.

Xiomara Reyes, as Gulnare, is carried about the bazaar in yellow chiffon as a prize, and, when she removes her veil, her beauty captivates the Pasha. Ms. Reyes has that youthful ingénue quality that glistens in this role, and her dancing is surreal. In the “Jardin Animée” scene, as the Pasha dreams of all his women in a garden of flowers, Ms. Reyes dances with personality and vibrancy. Roman Zhurbin, as the Pasha, Seyd, has a paunch like a watermelon, and he waddles about with camp, obviously enjoying every moment. Mr. Zhurbin is a fine character actor, who kept his balance in some treacherous antics. One of tonight’s main stars was Herman Cornejo, as Lankendem, the owner of the bazaar, who sold Medora and Gulnare to the Pasha for bags of coins, and his Variation, as always, was a feat for vocal accolades. Mr. Cornejo, too, is a superb character actor, and I’d like to see him in more leading roles.

As the Odalisques ( a female trio dance), Maria Riccetto was a bit stiff, but Misty Copeland and Renata Pavam were engaging and energized. Karin Ellis-Wentz, as Lead Pirate Woman, was wildly wanton, and, in her Pirate’s Dance with Carlos Lopez, she fed off his electrifying, but brief leaps and whirls. But, it was the combination of Ms. Murphy, Mr. Saveliev, Mr. Lopez, Mr. Carreño, Mr. Cornejo, and Ms. Reyes that generated such an impassioned and electrifying evening at Ballet Theatre. As always, Irina Tibilova’s sets and costumes were vivid and detailed. David LaMarche conducted with pizzazz, a Maestro, who managed music by Adam, Pugni, Delibes, Drigo, and Oldenbourg. Kudos to the cast and ABT Orchestra.

Gillian Murphy in Le Corsaire
Photo: Gene Schiavone

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