London: The English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire

by Sasha Wilkins on January 14, 2014 · 4 comments


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.


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.


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.)



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.


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.


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


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.


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.

       le-corsair-ENB   le-corsaire-swarovski-ENB




For further information about English National Ballet 2013/14 Performance Schedule and to book tickets visit

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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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Uli January 14, 2014 at 10:52

Never seen the ballet but the videos and photos of Nureyev performing it, YES! Unfortunately, the ballet cmopany here in Berlin doensn’t have a very interesting profile, which leaves me a little starving. It’s really a shame for a city like this. Would love a ballet tour to London.. thanks for this post!


Gayla January 14, 2014 at 14:55

Oh my, the detailing on the costumes is extraordinarily beautiful. These pictures fit perfectly in my dream image of what a dancer should wear. I, too, was obsessed with the ballet and I was so very fortunate to see and to meet Rudolf Nureyev shortly before his death. What an amazing dancer! I would have loved to have seen him in Le Corsaire.

How lucky for you to have attended this performance with all of its glamour and glitz. Spectacular! Thanks for the pictures :-)


Sophie January 14, 2014 at 15:55

This post really made me smile, I love ballet. Thank you for sharing :)



Janie January 14, 2014 at 20:08

ooooh that was lovely


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