January 20, 2016
Research shows that in the third week of January we Londoners hit rock bottom in post-Xmas depression. Fortunately we have English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire, as gaudy as a butterfly, with all the stage effects of a Hollywood blockbuster and jam-packed with ballet virtuosity to restore some festive sparkle.
Anna-Marie Holmes’ production, premiered in Boston then taken into the repertoire at American Ballet Theatre, is proving a winner for ENB and has toured the country between London seasons. The current performances have seen a number of male guest artists, so audiences were spoilt for choice with great variety of principal casting.
At this performance principal trio, Tamara Rojo as Medora, Isaac Hernández as Conrad and Osiel Gouneo as Ali, brought the ballet to a high spot in Act Two in a brilliant Pas de Trois. After an adage of lyrical beauty came the solos full of bravura. Rojo still every inch a ballerina hovering on breath-taking balances, spinning like the proverbial top and getting full height on her extensions. Hernández is always a joy to watch. His elegant aesthetic lines, a tad unlikely on so roguish a pirate, but such anomalies are part of the delight of this nonsense story. Gouneo attacks every ballet hurdle with the ease that comes with Cuban training – his pirouettes timed to a semi-quaver, suspended in perfect position until the flash finish.
Shiori Kase is a dancer who always raises the temperature – not to a blistering heat but to flood the auditorium with a golden glow. As Gulnare she delighted as a veiled beauty in the opening duet and returned in the final act to sweeten the Pasha’s candy floss dreams. Le Jardin Animé, a later addition to the original ballet and something of a stocking filler, was made memorable for the lightness and delicacy of Kase’s dancing in company with a super confident Rojo and the neatly drilled corps. Three fine Odalisques, Senri Kou, Alison McWhinney and Isabelle Brouwers were a quality addition to Act One with McWhinney going the extra mile.
Junor Souza struggled to convince as the malevolent slave trader, Lankendem, but it is fine classical technique, not realism that this ballet requires and in this respect he scored. Yonah Acosta as Birbanto fared better, looking every inch the bold insurrectionist. The male ensemble have their fill of leaping, making bold pirate gestures, looking fashionably unshaven and chasing skimpily dressed slave girls.
Michael Coleman as Pasha, redefined a very nasty character, with a penchant for pretty young girls, as a tubby granddad and is utterly delicious. Bob Ringwood’s magical effects never ceased to delight. The waves almost tickling toes in the front row of the stalls and shipwrecks that are wonderfully real. The décor full of orientalist detail and the costumes exquisitely coloured and always flattering complete the picture: the story may be totally unsavoury but the visuals are stunning.