By Carol Pardo
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
July 5, 2012p />
Copyright ©2012 by Carol Pardo
Once upon a time the meeting of Byron’s romantic pirate and Petipa’s Imperial classicism may have given birth to a logical, fully sentient ballet. But American Ballet Theatre’s production of “Le Corsaire,” after Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev, via Anna Marie Holmes, is little more than a hook on which to hang a performance. “Le Corsaire," more than most of the full-evening ballets on view at the Met this season, sinks or swims on the efforts of its leading dancers. Entrusted with keeping the pirate ship afloat this time out were Jared Matthews as Lankendem, Yuriko Kajiya as Gulnare, and Ivan Vasiliev as Ali, with Arron Scott making his debut as Birbanto, Johan Kobborg making his as Conrad, and, for the first time at ABT, Natalia Osipova as Medora. The boat was pulled in opposite directions, between spectacle and character, all night.
Osipova’s Medora is a wide-eyed minx with a jump that is a gift from the gods and hits you right in the solar plexus. When she was abducted by Lankendem, Medora was probably doing something she shouldn’t have, or meeting someone she shouldn’t have. She was not initially bowled over by Conrad, but was certainly willing to check him out and flirt a little. She was also, obviously and rightly, disappointed by his inability to rescue her from her fate. (This Medora could have rescued herself at any time just by soaring over everyone.) But by the time she arrived at the grotto in act 2, her affections were fully engaged.
In his second of four performances in a row, Vasiliev’s intensity as Ali was almost feral. His gaze was always focused, his instincts on high alert to protect his master. His jump, like Osipova’s is superhuman. And like her, he unleashed a torent of snazzy steps at the end of the well-known pas de deux for three which parted ways with the score and made them both seem lacking in, and unconcerned about, musicality.As Birbanto, Arron Scott achieved a more even keel between character and technical fireworks. If his camaraderie with Conrad was clearly established by the conversational timing, so was his ruthlessness, by a razor sharp grin, and the avidity of his jumps in space. And Scott also got all his laughs.
Anyone dancing Conrad has to deal with the passivity of the part. He’s the Siegfried of “Le Corsaire” to Ali’s Benno, responsible for nobility and partnering while leaving the flashy stuff to the other man. Although he has more steps to do in this version, Conrad still comes out second best—at best—because the steps are so unvaried, and dull. Instead, Johan Kobborg created a fine textured character. His Conrad was a seasoned adult with the salt of the sea in his hair, too occupied with leading men, and amassing spoils to fall in love—until Medora. Finesse gets swamped in this production, and got swamped here Kobborg was also a very fine partner. Osipova could be as daring as she wished and hurl herself across the stage, knowing that he would catch her—in character.
In the other leading roles, Yuriko Kajiya caught the revulsion but not the tragedy of Gulnare as she was paraded for sale before the Pasha. Jared Matthews had the blazing eyes and grinning mouth of a miser who smells gold but was a little too well brought up in his dancing, particularly on a night when physical prowess carried all before it.