New full-length ballets are rare, but London has been lucky of late: first the Royal Ballet gave us Don Quixote, and now English National Ballet has brought its Le Corsaire, by Anna-Marie Holmes, to the capital.
The London run was led by Alina Cojocaru as Medora, with a renewed bounce to her performance. She partnered Vadim Muntagirov, whose entrance – three trios of split jumps, each one textbook perfect, without breaking a sweat – attracted shouts of “Bravo!” only minutes into the show, evidence that he has matured into a great leading man.
With various parts by different composers added over the years to supplement the main score by Giselle’s composer Adolphe Adam, Le Corsaire’s music is a little patchy and less memorable than many 19th-century ballets; the sense of drama, however, is acute and pleasingly (and comically) well-matched to each set of characters, particularly the brass-heavy pangs for the pirates.
One interesting recurrence is the slowing down at the end of passages, followed by a pause before a big finish – dancers really have to hold their nerve during this, particularly as many endings are en pointe.
The ENB corps are on dazzling form, their timing immaculate. The first act can often be dull in many 19th-century works, full of character-building and mime, but this piece launches straight into the action. The sword dance, featuring Birbanto (played by Yonah Acosta with a nod to Shakespeare’s Iago) and his cronies, looks impressively grand, while the odalisque pas de trois is gorgeous, especially Laurretta Summerscales’ rock-solid balances and crisp turns.
The adventure is greatly enhanced by an attractive set and scrumptious costumes with unbelievable glitz and vivid colours by Bob Ringwood, the costume designer for a string of Hollywood films including Tim Burton’s Batman series and Troy. There are rainbow-striped dresses with little hats, gold harem outfits embellished with charms and stunning oriental tutus.
Le Corsaire, however, is all about act two, and here it’s an absolute tour de force. Junor Souza’s Ali partners Cojocaru with a delicacy that is equal parts awe and subservient devotion. In the famous solo, his jumps are big, clean and confident, infused with a great sense of drama.
It’s all dizzy turns and gigantic leaps for Medora and Conrad too, and neither puts a foot wrong. Cojocaru is a great tease both in terms of her character and with the audience – proving herself a true technician at the end of her solo, in which a series of super-speedy pirouettes gradually slow to a halt with impressive control.
The slow pas de deux between the lovers is equally magnificent. Both of them exude a carefree quality in their movements, with Muntigirov showing his real youthfulness for the first time in the ballet (despite his faintly silly ‘tache) and Cojocaru proving why she makes such a good Juliet (the famous balcony pas de deux this duet evokes).
The leads are superbly supported by Dmitri Gruzdyev’s Lankendem and Shiori Kase’s Gulnare. Lankendem has some meaty jumps and is especially good in the series of big leaps that all landed in grand pliés, all the while keeping his evil gurn. Kase was on fiery form and held her own alongside Cojocaru, with very fine lines and intricate footwork.
Le Corsaire does suffer from a somewhat lacklustre act three, but that’s perhaps inevitable given the firecracker second act. Le Jardin de Animé is well-danced, but pales in comparison with similar sequences in other story ballets, and Cojocaru’s solo bears a likeness to the Sleeping Beauty’s Rose Adagio, complete with roses and sweeping melody.
This is a boisterous, cheeky production, one that may be too unashamedly populist for the traditionalists – a quality encapsulated by the rather tabloidy strapline accompanying the production: “Passion. Pirates. Pas de deux.” – but it’s tremendous fun and, given its touring remit to bring ballet to the masses, exactly the kind of thing the ENB needs.