BWW Review: LE CORSAIRE, London Coliseum
On paper, Le Corsaire emphatically should not work. Based very loosely on the poem Le Corsair, written by Lord Byron, the plot is flimsy and the score is a mash-up of work by ten different composers. However, this revival of Anna-Marie Holmes' 2013 production for English National Ballet actually works on every level and is a wonderful evening of escapism and virtuoso dancing.
The plot is a fantastical mix of pirates, kidnapping, love and betrayal, set to backdrop of luscious costumes and sets. Swashbuckling pirate Conrad is searching for his lover Medora, who has been kidnapped and sold. After rescuing her, he ends up losing her again. After another rescue from a harem, the lovers' ship is wrecked in a storm, only for them to be miraculously saved, just in time for the curtain to fall.
Le Corsaire is a ballet that is a brilliant vehicle for male dancers. There were some sparkling performances on press night, particularly from Lead Principal Jeffrey Cirio, dancing as Ali. Cirio captured the most challenging jumps and pirouettes into a truly fluid performance.
After a beautiful performance as Clara in the recent Nutcracker, Erina Takahashi danced Medora with a mixture of incredibly neat and astonishingly fast fouetté turns. The feisty character could be emphasised a little more at points, but her movement is delicate and always a delight to watch.
Principal Francesco Gabriele Frola paired with Takahashi as the Nephew in Nutcracker and showed a few shakes during the more challenging lifts. This appeared to be almost completely absent here, with a grace and solid ease to the lifts between them. Frola shows grace and balance with huge jumps and wonderful flexibility as hero Conrad.
Guest artist Brooklyn Mack danced with huge charisma and powerful poise as slave-dealer Lankedem. He displays excellent height and incredibly steady landings.
For modern audiences, the story is both silly and distinctly old-fashioned, with dashing pirates and maidens being kidnapped and rescued, but this is a show that does not take itself seriously enough for the audiences to be in any way convinced that there is true misogyny in the show. For example, the original leering Pasha is now an excitable, fat, old man, played with lightness and fun by veteran Michael Coleman.
What is taken seriously by the whole company is the dancing, which is a delight. The trio of Odalisques is particularly lovely, with a lightness and delicacy from Precious Adams, Alison McWhinney and Julia Conway.
The production looks magnificent, with designer Bob Ringwood's glittering Oriental costumes capturing the sense of a faraway and magical land, with a richness in the colours, sparking like jewels. The sets are equally impressive, with great detail in a sailing ship, a pirates' lair, a bustling bazaar, and an opulent harem, all lit expertly by Neil Austin.
The score is varied and overall undistinguished, but features some rousing fanfares and evocative sections. It is played with fun and enthusiasm by the English National Ballet Philharmonic under the ever-reliable Gavin Sutherland.
ENB's Le Corsaire lacks any depth or tragedy of classical ballet, but is all the better for it. This is accessible ballet at its most fun, with some fantastic performances. This revival is the first since 2016: please ENB, don't leave it so long next time!
Photo Credit: Laurent Liotardo