In the programme notes that accompany the English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire, Artistic Director Tamara Rojo makes a plea for understanding from the audience for the rather unsavoury subject matter. For Le Corsaire features piracy, slavery and the suppression of women.
Today, we would rightly call out such behaviour, but this is a 19th century ballet with a distinct whiff of pantomime about it (there’s a Pascha who jiggles his large belly with glee) so you should not really take offence at the scantily-clad concubines or dashing pirates.
Instead, the audience can enjoy a wonderful display of dancing in a gloriously colourful and lively production. The story, based on a poem by Lord Byron, verges on the ridiculous: there is a lot of kidnapping, sword waving and even a drug-induced dream sequence, but all this comes second to the dancing, which shows off the company at its very best.
The demanding choreography calls for spectacular leaps from the men and beautiful, speedy footwork from the women. Opening night saw Erina Takahashi and Shiori Kase on top form as Medora and Gulnare, with Francesco Gabriele Frola pulling out all the technical stops as the hero Conrad and Jeffrey Cirio superb as his slave Ali. The well-drilled corps de ballet were particularly lovely in the fantasy garden scene and Michael Coleman made the most of the comedy in his role as the Pascha.
The music is tuneful but instantly forgettable: it is a mix of no less than 10 composers, including Adam, Minkus and Delibes. It is pretty but does not have the dramatic power of Tchaikovsky, or the emotional resonance of Prokofiev.
The sets and costumes by Bob Ringwood are vivid – all shimmer and shine with lots of floating veils. This ballet shows off the company to much greater effect than its recent Nutcracker and is one to see if you want classical ballet at its best…just ignore the story.
English National Ballet is in Le Corsaire at the London Coliseum until 14 January. www.ballet.org.uk