London: The English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire

by Sasha Wilkins on January 14, 2014 · 4 comments

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In this hectic London world it is not often that one feels transported back to a different, more glamorous era, but attending the premiere of a ballet at The Coliseum gives a tiny feel of what it must have been like in the heyday of the ballet in the 1950s, when a premiere was a huge news event, attendees wore black tie, and ballerinas were the global superstars of their day.

Sadly black tie is no longer de rigueur but the dress code for the English National Ballet’s premiere of Le Corsaire last Thursday was Cocktail, and there was Champagne and a speech by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo in the St Martin’s Hotel next door before the performance.

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ENB is the first UK company to perform the ballet, one of the great Russian classics which was created by Marius Petipa for the Mariinsky Theatre, in full.

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As a child I was obsessed with the ballet, and photos of Rudolf Nureyev, in one of his career defining roles, Ali the slave, in Le Corsaire, were ubiquitous in ballet books, so imagine my excitement at finally seeing the ballet performed. (You can see clips of Nureyev in Le Corsaire on YouTube here, and in the pas de deux with Margot Fonteyn here. They are truly astonishing.)

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Le Corsaire is based on Lord Byron’s poem Corsaire and tells the story of Conrad, a dashing pirate, and his love for Medora, the beautiful harem girl.

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It is a swashbuckling drama of captive maidens, rich sultans, kidnap and rescue, disguise and conspiracy, love and betrayal, culminating in a shipwreck.

The story, from what we could glean from watching, is frankly ridiculous – it’s best to go online in advance, to mug up – so it’s best just to sit back, ignore the narrative, and revel in the glorious spectacle and superb dancing. It is utterly wonderful.

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Alina Cojocaru was dancing the lead role of Medora, the harem girl, and Vadim Muntagirov the role of Conrad – le corsaire himself.

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The ENB’s new Artistic Director Tamara Rojo approached costumier Bob Ringwood, whose film credits include Batman, Alien 3, Star Trek Nemesis and Troy, to design the exotic sets and the costumes, which he based on original paintings, prints and engravings of the mid 19th Century and embellished with over 230,000 Swarovski crystals.

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The crystal house has collaborated with ENB for seven years, most recently on a suite of costumes designed by Julien Macdonald for the Queen’s Coronation Festival, and this is its eighth collaboration.

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For further information about English National Ballet 2013/14 Performance Schedule and to book tickets visit www.ballet.org.uk

Le Corsaire Creative Credits
Staged by Anna-Marie Holmes after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev. Music by Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, Prince Pyotr van Oldenburg, Ludwig Minkus, Yuly Gerber, Baron Boris Fitinhof-Schnell and Albert Zabel. Edited by Lars Payne and Gavin Sutherland. 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 Bob Ringwood. Lighting by Neil Austin

Many thanks to Swarovski for inviting me as their guest.

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