Dance Review: English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire

Where:  Milton Keynes Theatre / When: 18th October 2013

I was lucky enough to see Le Corsaire on only its second night. The ballet opened in Milton Keynes and we were thrilled to be able to watch Tamara Rojo dance the lead female role of Medora. The basic plot was: Pirate Conrad falls in love with the beautiful dancer Medora, a prisoner of slave owner Lankedum. Conrad resolves to rescue her, and is almost successful. However, The Pasha, a very wealthy local dignitary, spies Medora dancing as they try to escape and is immediately enraptured. He buys her from Lankedum and takes her to be part of his harem. Conrad and his crew set off to rescue Medora once again, but all does not go to plan…

The set and costume design for the ballet was incredible. The colours were full and vibrant, and the ballet felt luxurious, seen in both in the sumptuousness of the sets and in the huge variety of costumes worn by the company. A far off, exotic landscape was evoked and greatly added to the adventurous tone of the work. Rojo and Fernando Bufala, who performed the role of Conrad, danced a beautiful pas de deux in the second act and the group scenes early on between the pirates and their slave women were a joy to watch. The action definitely picked up in the latter half of the ballet and seemed to be paced far better than the earlier scenes. The score was well suited, if not especially memorable.

Of the supporting roles, I particularly enjoyed Michael Coleman’s bumbling, Bacchus-like Pasha and Joan Zamora as Ali, Conrad’s assistant. Coleman filled his role with joy and humour, adding a lightness to a potentially very sinister part and Zamora performed Ali with grace and gentleness, creating a genuinely affecting connection with the audience.

Personally, I found Le Corsaire beautiful to look at, but felt it was a little muddled in plot. It took a long time to get going and then, when it did pick up, all the action happened at breakneck pace. The background of sexual slavery, along with all the female dancers being rather scantily clad felt to me to be a little…out-dated. While many more traditional ballets do have misogynistic undertones, it was strange to watch such a female dominated company perform what felt like a rather sexist ballet.

The company’s performance last time I saw them, in Sleeping Beauty felt rather stiff and restrained. It was a treat, therefore, to see Rojo and the company as a whole evidently far more relaxed and enjoying the performance. ENB has gone through a sustained period of change in the last 18 months and it seems to be coping with and embracing that change admirably. I can’t wait to see them in a more modern performance in Lest We Forget at the Barbican next year.

Disclaimer: All reviews are my personal opinions and are in no way intended as a professional critique of the performances.

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