The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
June 17, 2009
by George Jackson
copyright 2009 by GJ
Going back to 1899 in order to restore "Le Corsaire" had its reasons. Wanted was a peak version of the often altered old ballet, plus documentation. The changes Marius Petipa made that year came at a time when he had also been doing his wonderful work with the great Tchaikowsky and Glazunov scores. Moreover, choreographic notations and other pieces information about that "Corsaire" have survived. The current Bolshoi production by Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka uses the 1899 data with discretion. The result is certainly worth seeing in its entirety - once. Is it, though, something to go back to a second time?
There were deserters this week, even among first time viewers. Empty seats were noticeable following the second intermission. One likely cause was the performance's length (3 hours - trimmed down from the text the Bolshoi dances at home in Moscow). Another reason may have been the disparity between the drama and the dancing. There is choreography of the finest sort, particularly in Act 2 with its Odalisques trio and Le Jardin Anime ensemble. The story, though, and how it is acted, is a thing of fun at best. It has high melodrama (the ballerina trapped by mutinous pirates appearing from dark corners), gentle pathos (one of the harem's eunuchs lovingly watering flower beds, oblivious to the dancing that's just begun), frenzied action (during a splendid shipwreck) and other incidents galore. Seeing these things more than once isn't likely to result in revelations.
The beauty of Marius Petipa's dance patterns can also be apparent right away. Still, repeated viewing may lead to discoveries. Doesn't the choice of steps and how they are combined make Petipa seem like a florist picking blossoms and arranging them into bouquets? Isn't the classical dancing in the harem quite contained? It doesn't flow and spread out into space. The dancers appear to be calling attention to their placement - the disposition of their body parts, their rank in the harem's social order and their place in the universe. Chances are that the stagers are following Petipa himself and alluding to the Parisian manner of ballet dancing which is apt for the seraglio topic and the choreographer's French heritage. Other classical numbers in "Le Corsaire" - such as the first act's Pas d'esclaves duo and the second act's Grand pas de deux for the ballerina and her pirate hero - are more expansive, more Russian.
Casting for Washington's (and my) second "Corsaire" performance (not counting the public dress rehearsal) wasn't compelling. In the role of Medora, Ekaterina Shipulina had the technical resources to last the first ballerina's many and varied solos. Elongate and with lady-like delicacy, she did not muster the authority to put her stamp on the dancing or make her character distinctive. The pert Ekaterina Krysanova, in the second ballerina role of Gulnare, attracted attention away from Shipulina when they appeared together. Ruslan Skvortsov looked plausible as Conrad, the pirate hero, and danced smoothly but tended to fade from view when not active. Denis Medvedev impressed (as on opening night) with his ballon and precision in the Pas d'esclaves. Maria Isplatovskaya was passion and pride as the mimetic Sultana, and Alexander Petukhov again endeared himself as the gentle eunuch. The evening's star, though, was the female ensemble in the classical portions of "Le Corsaire". These Bolshoi dancers haven't quite the finesse of the Maryinsky's, but they move with a fullness of body that's a song for the eyes.