Arts theater review

Brooding pirates, a damsel in distress, and Le Jardin Animé en pointe

A lavish production set in the Ottoman era

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Maria Baranova, Rachele Buriassi, and Ji Young Chae in Ivan Liška's Le Corsaire.
Lisa Voll–The Tech

October 27 through November 6, 2016
Boston Opera House

Le Corsaire (the Pirate) is a thrilling fantasy tale set in the Royal Ottoman era about a love triangle between a handsome corsair named Conrad, the ruthless Pasha Seyd, and the beautiful maiden Medora. It is a three-act ballet, originally choreographed by Henry Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier to the score of Adolphe Adam, and world premiered by the Théâtre Impérial de l´Opéra in Paris in 1856. However, contemporary performances of Le Corsaire are based on the legendary Ballet Grand Master Marius Petipa rendition for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg in 1863. Boston Ballet’s production is based on Ivan Liska’s version, which premiered in 2007.

In the opening scene, Conrad and his fellow buccaneers are battling the storming seas. Having survived the turbulent seas, Conrad and his fellow pirates arrive in the marketplace in Andrinople, where they mingle with the villagers and ogle the dancing slave girls up for sale. Medora, the beautiful adopted daughter of a wealthy slave trader Lankedem, is attracted to the charming Conrad and throws him a bouquet of flowers, which instantly enchants him to her beauty and grace. But of course, Lankedem would have none of this blossoming romance. As the Pasha is carried into the marketplace and glances around, he is also spellbound by Medora’s beauty, and demands her from Lankedem with bribes and threats. The horrified Medora begs Conrad to take her with him and Conrad and his fellow pirates gallantly battle their way back to their ship with Medora and all the slave girls they could haul.  

Principal dancer Lia Cirio (Gulnara) delivers a masterful performance as she tries to seduce the Pasha and earn his favor. Her demur legs seem to burst with muscularity when she is en pointe, and look fully stretched on every step. The dance of the slave girls, with their diminutive bodies adorned in belly dancing costumes was a feast for the eyes, and a sadomasochistic pleasure for the mind.

On the other hand, Roddy Doble (Lankedem) with his gelled and perfectly coiffed hair looked more like a Red Sox Nation-fan on a date than a sleazy slave trader of Ottoman era. Fortunately, the hairdo faux pas was remedied in the subsequent acts by a red fez headdress. Sabi Vergas’s portrayal of the Turkish Pasha was friendly and warm rather than a dunce slob as in Petipa’s version.

The second act takes place in a grotto on an idyllic pirate island on the Levantine Coast, where Conrad and Medora are in a passionate embrace before delicately dancing their pas de deux. The pas de deux performed by Lasha Khozashvili (Conrad) and Seo Hye Han (Medora) is one of the best-known duets in the classical ballet repertoire and is practiced and danced by prima ballerinas as evidence of their accomplishments. The romanticisms of Han’s expressions and her ability to produce dynamic movements from her petite figure and the soaring grand jete of Khozashvilli brought the loudest applause from the audience.

The final act and the highlight of the evening is bracketed by two of the most popular and lavish passages in the classical ballet repertoire. The demanding Pas de Trois des Odalisques is one of a rare surviving Pas de Trois of Petipa and was danced masterfully by three premiere soloists, Baranove, Buriassi, and Chae.

Le Jardin Anime — a great divertisment staged by the Harem odalisques and Gulnara before Conrad elopes with Medora to his ship — is a gorgeous cornucopia of dozens and dozens of beautiful ballerinas in lacy pink and golden tutus dancing demurely and exquisitely en pointe to the lush score of Leo Delibes. It is a magnificent feast of beauty and elegance, and a rare opportunity to see two great performers side by side — Gulnara danced by Lia Cirio and Medora danced by Seo Hye Han. The two principal dancers styles complement each other well. Han exudes the softness, charm and grace of a classical ballerina while Cirio exhibits the power and technical prowess of contemporary dancer with an ability to hold her arabesque for a seemingly infinite amount of time.

If The Nutcracker is the only ballet you’ve heard of, or you find that Swan Lake was too melancholic, go see Le Corsaire. It is a classic tale of love, derring-do, and triumph, accompanied with a playful score and a happy ending that makes it perfect for entertaining the whole family or a wholesome date.