On October 17th I went to the theatre in that Capital of Culture Milton Keynes, to see the first evening performance of the English National Ballet’s new production of Le Corsaire. The music for Le Corsaire is generally credited to Adolph Adam (who also scored Giselle). But it seems in fact to be a patchwork of music by a number of 19th Century ballet composers including Ludwig Minkus, (Don Quixote, La Bayadère), Leo Délibes (Coppélia, Sylvia) and Cesaro Pugni (Ondine, Esmerelda). Many would regard Délibes as the master of this genre, but some of the music from Le Corsaire is almost equally splendid.
It is a shame we hear so little of this music today — how many times do your hear these names on Classic FM — apart possibly from Délibes?
I was particularly keen to see this performance as it was the first time that Romanian ballerina Alina Cojocaru (who recently came across to ENB from the Royal Ballet) has danced the part. (She is absolutely my favourite, pin-up, Romanian immigrant). And she was quite magnificent — extraordinary grace and fragility, yet some very powerful dancing.
Bob Ringwood, who has designed for major Hollywood blockbusters, did the set and costumes, and the results are spectacular. The production deliberately eschews any attempts at modernism (unlike Carlos Acosta’s new production of Don Quixote, for the Royal Ballet, which I saw on cine-cast recently, and which would have classical ballet purists in shock). This new Corsaire reaches back to its roots in the nineteenth century, and to an inexpressibly romantic view of pirates and the Near East. It respects the original poem by Lord Byron, on which the story is loosely based. Call it a cliché if you will: this is the world of the Persian market, the perfumed garden, the fragrance of the seraglio, the Gates of Damascus, Sinbad the Sailor. Yet it has an authenticity and a glow of romance that no modern interpretation could offer. And the colours and designs defy description. You have to see them.
I can honestly say that it is not merely the best live ballet performance I have seen, but absolutely the best thing I have ever seen in the theatre, bar none.
Did it have faults? Perhaps a couple of minor points. The character and costume of the slave-master Lankendem could have been more clearly drawn — at times it was difficult to distinguish him from the pirates. And the scene when Medora (Cojocaru) wounds the pirate Birbanto could have been made more of. Anyone who had failed to read the synopsis could have missed it entirely, in which case the subsequent shooting of Birbanto by the corsaire Conrad would have been inexplicable.
But these are minor points. The whole effect is wonderful. The show is touring the UK, and there are many opportunities to see it. If you have any interest at all in the ballet — or in splendid drama, story-telling and music — do go and see it.