NEW YORK—It’s difficult to take seriously the plotline of the ballet, “Le Corsaire” (“The Pirate”)—but then, one doesn’t have to. The terrific dancing by the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) company carries the day.
Based on Lord Byron’s 1814 narrative poem, this production of “Le Corsaire” is staged by Anna-Marie Holmes, after Marius Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev’s 19th century ballet, with music by Adolphe Adam (1803-1856) and several others.
What we see on stage is a mélange of a pirate ship sailing toward Turkey, a noisy bazaar where beautiful slave girls are being sold at auction, a plump pasha who buys them, a pirate and his beloved, an abduction, a shooting, and a shipwreck.
We’re immediately plunged into the action. The chief pirate, Conrad, winningly danced by David Hallberg, catches the eye of lovely Greek girl, Medora (Paloma Herrera), who is about to sold as a slave to the Pasha, comically danced and mimed by Roman Zhurbin.
Hallberg makes a commanding presence on stage. He’s tall, with a mane of blond hair, and the ability to project his personality far back into the theater. He moves with enormous strength and exhibits great virtuosity in his turns and leaps. He also partners Ms. Herrera beautifully in their pas-de-deux; some of their lifts are heart-stopping in their height, and lengthy suspension in the air.
On his first entrance (I viewed the July 3 performance, during ABT’s July season at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House), Hallberg received a round of applause, obviously from fans familiar with his work. My only objection to his performance was his slight arrogance, which appeared at that point and at others during the performance. That stance could be justified, I suppose, in his characterization as the pirate boss, but there are times when I would have wished for some tenderness, for instance, in his interplay with Medora, who inflames Conrad when he first sees her at the slave bazaar, owned by Lankendem (danced nicely by Gennadi Saveliev).
As for Ms. Herrera, her technique was exquisite. Her fouetté turns were beautifully centered; each movement throughout was soft, lyrical, and accurately placed. However, she seemed like a remote miniature, somehow lacking projection, which may stem from a lack of emotional intention, as a character.
More successful was Sarah Lane, who played Medora’s friend, Gulnare. Also technically proficient, she exhibited a pert, minx-like quality, which caught my attention.
An outstanding virtuoso was Daniil Simkin, who played the role of Ali, the slave, one of the most exciting and sought-after male roles in all of ballet. Simkin made the most of his solo, demonstrating astonishing speed and height in his leaps and turns. As the character, his Ali related nicely to Conrad.
As for other aspects of the production, sets by Irina Tibilova (also costume designer) were richly colorful, taking us from a bustling bazaar, to an elegant palace, to a mysterious cave; and exhibiting an old ship, first in one piece, then unhappily breaking apart in shipwreck mode.
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center
Show ended July 7
Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts newsletter. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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