Out of all the ballets in the classical cannon, Le Corsaire possesses one of the thinnest and most nonsensical plot lines around, but who cares. Lovers of classical dance have been flocking to this ballet for more than 150 years for the high-flying choreography and the Mariinsky Ballet’s production, at the Kennedy Center through Sunday, delivers just that.
Loosely inspired by an 1814 poem by Lord Byron, the ballet’s truly preposterous story involves ship-wrecked pirates on the make, a group of kindhearted Greek women who are kidnapped by a band of Turks, and a scheming slave trader who supplies a local Pasha with fresh recruits for his harem.
This is one of those ballets where it is best to suspend one’s disbelief and modern sensibilities. And anyway, the real draw is its bravura dancing for both the men and women, some of which is quite beautiful.
The cast on opening night was exciting but inconsistent in some sections. The coltish Maria Khoreva, who was promoted to first soloist last year, danced the lead role of the slave girl, Medora, with verve and technical prowess. Khoreva is an extraordinary dancer but at only 18 she is still learning to find herself as an artist, and she sometimes displayed a lack of warmth and verisimilitude in her dancing and portrayal of Medora.
Nadezhda Batoeva, in the role of Medora’s friend Gulnara, was just the opposite. Batoeva brought depth and a subtle tenderness to the role. That is not easy given the silliness of the story and the fact that Gulnara appears only in Acts I and III. Batoeva had less time on stage than her younger colleague but she made a deeper impression and showed the difference 10 years of performing experience can make.
Mariinsky Ballet’s Le Corsaire
closes April 14, 2019
Details and tickets
The men, however, are the true stars of this particular ballet, and Kimin Kim as the slave Ali, and Timur Askerov as Conrad, Medora’s love interest, did not disappoint although they too exhibited a contrast in temperature.
Kim’s gravity-defying jumps were on full display in the famous solo for Ali in Act II. He soared through the air and often appeared to hang aloft for long moments, but he was sometimes off musically and seemed noncommittal in his portrayal which lessened the thrill of seeing this celebrated danseur in action. Askerov on the other hand was all jaunty passion. One can’t help but grin watching this man move across the stage and through the air with an air of boisterous glee.
Of all the lead men in this performance, Alexei Timofeyev, as the scheming slave-trader Lankedem, gave the most fully formed dramatic portrayal. A powerhouse of a performer, Timofeyev ate up the stage as he danced and leapt across it and delighted the audience with his evil antics throughout the ballet.
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While the choreography of Le Corsaire highlights the principal and soloist roles throughout most of the ballet, the “Jardin Anime” scene in Act III is one of the few sections where the women of the corps de ballet are given a chance to shine.
Accompanied by at least a dozen children (student dancers in this production are from the Washington School of Ballet and the Kirov Academy of Ballet), the 24 women in white tutus decorated with garlands of tiny pink flowers give the visual impression of a field of pastel roses in first bloom. Sweeping softly across the stage in constantly changing patterns, the dancers here make beguilingly pretty shapes through a series of adagio movements and steps and the result is charming.
Tuesday night’s performance illustrated why the Mariinsky corps and lead dancers’ classical skill is prized by ballet audiences around the world and why, despite occasional inconsistencies, it is worth spending this Springtime week in their presence.
Le Corsaire. Choreography by Pyotr Gusev after Marius Petipa. The Mariinsky Ballet; Yuri Fateev, Acting Director and Ballet Master. Music by Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, and Pyotr Oldenburgsky. Set design by Teymuraz Murvanidze. Costume design by Galina Solovyova. Lighting design by Vladimir Lukasevich. Presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through April 14, 2019. Reviewed by Maria Di Mento.