Esplanade Theatre, May 15 & 16, 2015

English National Ballet's Le Corsaire. Photo ASH

English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire.
Photo ASH

Joy Wang X. Y

Le Corsaire, with its assemblage of parody, comedy, bombast in a loose collection of variations and pas de deux – has something of the vaudeville. It is viscerally exciting but rather emotionally hollow unless it has a genuine narrative anchor. On the 16 May, that anchor was supposed to be Alina Cojocaru but her withdrawal left English National Ballet’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo with two consecutive shows.

Rojo, dancing throughout with a shimmering back and indomitable technique, gave virtuoso performances with moments of great beauty. She danced the bazaar scenes with arched knowingness and filled the central pas de trois with ballerina aplomb, but together it didn’t quite cohere to form a cogent narrative. There was little sense of a continuous thread running through her portrayal; of what steps can reveal about character (rather than dancer).

In the Jardin Animé scene, Rojo, stretching out long balances, is majestic; but the directness of her efforts lacks something of the scene’s ebullient enigmatism; its romantic aura and wafting lightness.

Perhaps the traits Rojo is noted for are more evident in the company she now leads. Laurretta Summerscales (Gulnare, May 15; Third Odalisque, May 16), a dancer in verdant bloom, danced Gulnare with a spacious line and generous presence. Eloquent in both step and gesture she is also an open, legible actress. You see her straining even in the odalisque trio to tell a story, eyes and hands communicating, illuminating the world around her.

Shiori Kase (Third Odalisque, May 15; Gulnare, May 16), a different, less playful Gulnare, was no less delightful. Even more than her delicate strength and sparkling footwork, it is the gentle breath in her dancing and its ravishing musicality that fascinates. Movement seems to ripple through her body; even at rest she is not quite still. She seems to draw music from the inside-out with a lovely intimacy. There isn’t the moment by moment reaction that Summerscale offers, she dances the Pas d’Esclave (the Act I pas de deux) as one continuous breath, but how enchantingly she phrases and how winningly she dances.

English National Ballet in Le Corsaire. Photo ASH

English National Ballet in Le Corsaire.
Photo ASH

The company’s newest acquisition, Issac Hernadez (Conrad on both May 15 and 16), also dances with panache and brio but his partnership with Rojo probably still needs a little more time. They didn’t quite penetrate the story’s romantic heart, and without that the ballet looses some of its ecstatic rapture.

Elsewhere, Yonah Acosta made a darkly sinister Birbanto on May 16, his dancing a riposte to anything that stands in his way. The previous evening, Fernando Bufalá, less assertive a dancer, brought a surer touch of humanity to the role, and thus gave his character more dramatic force.

Both Acosta (May 15) and César Corrales (May 16) were effective as Ali. The clarity of Corrales’ dancing and the liquid fluidity with which he strings together seemingly impossible steps marks him as someone to watch.

The company, as a whole, danced with absolute professionalism and conviction. On Friday night, the character dances from corps to soloists were taken with verve and élan. And on both nights, Madison Keesler bought needed inspiration to the Jardin Animé corps.