Thursday, 16 January 2014

Le Corsair - English National Ballet @ The Coliseum, Saturday 11th January 2014

A pirate shipsails across the high seas, captained by Conrad and his faithful pirate crew as they navigate towards the Ottoman Empire. They are on a mission to rescue Medora, Conrad’s love, from the hands of the slave trader Lankendem. Conrad and the other pirates enter the bazaar where Lankendem is selling his slave girls. Conrad is looking for Medora and sees her peering from a balcony. She throws him a rose as proof of her love. 
The Pasha arrives and Lankendem presents three young women he wants to sell to him. When all are rejected, he presents the young slave girl Gulnare and the Pasha buys her immediately. Medora is freed by Ali, Conrad’s slave and tries to escape but is prevented by the Pasha, who faints at the sight of her beauty and insists she must dance for him - , unable to resist such beauty, he buys her as well. Conrad instructs Ali to steal Medora from the Pasha, and also kidnaps Lankendem. 
Conrad shows his hideout to Medora, and promises her all his treasures and possessions. Birbanto, his lieutenant  objects and tells Conrad that the riches are not his to give.  
Conrad summons the pirates to bring their stolen bounty into the cave including the slave girls and the kidnapped Lankendem. Medora pleads with Conrad to free all the slave girls. Conrad agrees but Birbanto rebels and persuades the pirates to mutiny, but Conrad quells them.   
Birbanto devises another plan. Spraying a rose with a sleeping potion he forces Lankendem to help him give the flower to Medora, who unaware of the poison, hands the rose to Conrad.  He smells the flower and falls into a drugged sleep. The pirates return to the cave, see Conrad unconscious and decide to kidnap Medora. In the struggle  she cuts Birbanto’s arm.  Lankendem steals Medora back and escapes. Birbanto is about to kill the comatose Conrad when Ali interrupts him. Conrad awakes to discover his beloved Medora is missing once again, the evil Birbanto feigns ignorance and swears his loyalty to Conrad.  
Gulnare is entertaining the Pasha by dancing and teasing the Vizier, but they are interrupted by Lankendem bringing back Medora. The Pasha is delighted Medora has been recaptured and declares he will make her his most treasured wife. Conrad, Birbanto and the pirates arrive disguised as merchants. Conrad and Birbanto distract the Pasha as the pirates kill his guards. They reveal their true identities and chaos erupts within the palace. Birbanto chases Gulnare and  they collide with Conrad and Medora. Medora exposes Birbanto as a traitor and Conrad shoots him. Ali helps Medora, Gulnare and Conrad escape and they flee to the ship chased by Lankendem. They set sail but suddenly a fierce storm breaks and the ship sinks.  Ali and Gulnare are drowned.  Conrad and Medora, having survived the shipwreck, desperately cling onto a rock. Conrad pulls out the symbolic rose that Medora gave him when they first met and hands it to her declaring his undying love. As she takes the flower into her hands Conrad collapses and dies. 


Medora – Tamara Rojo
Conrad – Matthew Golding
Gulnare – Lauretta Summerscales
Ali – Vadim Muntagirov
Birbanto – Fabian Reimair
Pasha – Michael Coleman
Pasha’s Assistant – Juan Rodriguez

Creative Team:
Choreography – Anna-Marie Holmes (after Marius Petipa)
Music: Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Ricardo Drigo, Pyoty van Oldenbourg, Ludwig Minkus, Yuly Gerber, Boris Fitinhof-Schnell, Albert Zabel and Uncle Tom Cobley and all!
Sets and Costumes – Bob Ringwood
Lighting – Neil Austin

Well, I hope you’re still all with me after reading the synopsis (believe me, I edited it down by at least half and its still bewildering unless you concentrate).  There isn’t really any real necessity for it to be so bloody complicated – once you boil it down to the essentials, its fairly straightforward.  What makes it complicated is the constant repetition of people’s names.  And actually, once the ballet is in progress, it all seems so much easier.  You can just sit there and let it wash over you, to a large extent.  There is so much padding of the story that if you miss anything, you can work it out for yourself in the next bit of padding. There are a few little bits where you have to be looking out for details like a bit of mime (the poisoning of the rose, for example) and if you miss those you are slightly sunk.  But on the whole, as someone once said to me “With Corsair you don’t need to bother about the plot – you can just sit there and enjoy the dancing”.  And by and large I did.  I was aided in this by the quality of the dancing itself – Tamara Rojo has recently taken as Artistic Director and seems to be pulling it up by its collective jockstraps.  Standards have been pretty ropy the last couple of times I’ve seen ENB (although appeared to be rising with their new production of Nutcracker a year or so ago), and now that Alina Cojocaru is now a member of the company as well, things seem to be looking up quite a bit.  The fact that ENB have now invested in a new production of Corsair (a surprising choice, given that its quite an obscure ballet – although perhaps that is why they have done so, because practically nobody else has got a decent production of it in their repertoire) is a good indication that things are on the up.  Perhaps they are about to invest in a new production of something else soon – perhaps a new Bayadere?  That would be interesting to see – anything would be better than the Royal Ballet’s tired old production.  But please – no more Swan Lakes!

Visually the production is stunning.  Bucketloads of lovely new sets and some stunning costumes – some so covered in glittery bits that they could almost walk around the stage themselves.  I expect shareholders in Swarovski are rubbing their wrinkly old hands in glee.  The Pasha, for instance, was so lit up that at times I had difficulty actually seeing his face through the glare.  And that was just his first costume – his second one probably needs a pair of big stagehands to lift it out of the cupboard and I doubt very much that it will have been hanging in that cupboard on one of those bendy wire coathangers.   I have a mental image of the Head of Wardrobe looking sadly at a pile of mangled metal and shouting over her shoulder “Doreen!  The Pasha’s costume’s eaten another coathanger!” Meanwhile, a pile of bejewelled fabric slips round the corner and cackles quietly, burps and settles down for a nap.

Lovely too are the sets – the whole production looks like a pantechnicon full of backcloths for Aladdin has mated with one full of scenery for La Bayadere, with a touch of The Mikado for good measure.  The first act cloth showing the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul wouldn’t disgrace the world’s most expensive box of Turkish Delight. The Pirate Cave is a bit worrying – there seem to be strange bits of Moorish architecture sticking up all over the place which are so large and loud that under no circumstances could the cave be described as a “hideaway” – you could give directions to it by saying “Sail Southwest for 20 minutes until you see the big yellow and red horseshoe arch sticking out of the rocks”.  Even more worrying (but still very pretty) is the set for the enchanted garden – from Istanbul we seem to have arrived in Agra because there is a dead ringer for the Taj Mahal in the background.  I know the Pasha is meant to be under the influence of his hubbly-bubbly pipe when he sees the flowers dancing in the garden  - but India??  It is, however, in its cool mint green a refreshing contrast to the strong reds and oranges of the other sets and nicely wispy (as if seen through a slight mist) for a dream scene.  The palace set is your standard pillar box red/emerald green/fretwork fencing jobbie. 

Dance-wise (because this is, of course, what we have come for), Rojo seemed on top form as Medora, nicely contrasting with Lauretta Somerscales in the smaller (but just as technically difficult) role of Gulnare.  Matthew Golding seems a bit anodyne to be playing the dashing pirate captain, Conrad – the role is very much a “penny plain, tuppence coloured” one and we seemed to be getting the “penny plain” version here.  A certain lack of bravura, perhaps?  Or just uninspiring choreography?  Fabian Reimar seemed to be giving rather more oomph to the “bad guy” role of Birbanto.  The part of the slave – here called Ali – is a showpiece role for your company Nureyev as it needs a jumper and spinner of considerable technical skill and this is demonstrated in buckets.  It’s a shame that it’s such a weak part – for the most, you run around in a pair of silky pyjama bottoms (sometimes you get a feather to wear on your head) doing vaguely Middle Eastern salaams all over the place, then you do your big set piece in the Pirate Cave and everyone goes bananas, then you spend the rest of the show more or less running about the stage chasing people until you fall overboard in the closing minutes and drown.  What a thankless life. 

Anyhoo, ENB’s new Corsair is a joyful, colourful romp and makes for a good, undemanding night out (unless you read the synopsis in the programme, in which case you may have to sit there with your head wrapped in wet towels for a couple of hours until the pain stops). 

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