American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, New York
June 6, 2013
by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2013 by Mary Cargill
ABT has revised it scenery and costumes for "Le Corsaire", that delicious romp through Byron courtesy of Petipa and a number of others. The first production used the sets and costumes from a Bolshoi production, and they were colorful, too colorful in fact, considering the saturated pinks and yellow tutus worn in the sublime Jardin Animé. The new sets (by Christian Prego) seem to be based on the hitherto unknown design school called Turkish Modern and the women's costumes (by Anibal Lapiz) appear to have been conceived at Sequins Surplus. If so, there were job lots of pale sequins, as many of the tutus (or tutukinis, since most of the women looked like Victoria's Secret advertisements in their abbreviated bikini tops) had only the barest hint of color, which made distinguishing Medora and Gulnare from their fellow flowers a bit difficult. The most disappointing set was the flimsy sheer backdrops for the Jardin Animé. It looked as if the designers were trying to indicate flowers falling out of giant planters, but the effect was like seeing giant molars floating in the air. The lighting, too, worked against that magical choreography, highlighting the dark background and giving a yellowish tinge to the dancers. Maybe the intended effect was to make them look like golden stalks billowing in the music, but the effect was recreation time in a jaundice ward.
But "Le Corsaire" is really all about the dancing, and the cast, led by Veronika Part and Cory Stearns, was absolutely terrific. Part is one of the most elegantly musical dancers at ABT, and she gloried in the lush choreography of the Jardin Animé, using her magnificent line and eloquent upper body to embody Petipa's idea of beauty triumphant. The fouettés in the grotto scene were impeccably fast singles, without extra flourishes (though she finished with a double). Medora's emotional range isn't wide, but Part managed to find them. She was especially touching in the first act as she sadly greeted her fellow slave Gulnare, looking fearfully at her new owners, and casting desperate glances at Conrad. I expect most of the men in the audience were ready to charge the stage to rescue her. And I have rarely seen a Medora who grabbed Birbanto's knife with such desperation.
Conrad, too, is a man of few qualities, but Stearns looked dashing in his goatee. He didn't condescend to the part, and his noble line and generosity gave his dancing a feeling of warmth. Though really, Conrad is fighting an uphill battle against the libretto--how could anyone graduate from Pirate School without learning that if your second in command attacks you with a knife, you string him up at once, and you certainly don't believe him later when he says he tried to save your girlfriend from being kidnapped. And if you have just invaded the Pasha's palace,you high tail it back to the ship immediately without taking time to show off your jumps, just in case the audience missed them the first ten times.
Luis Ribagorda was the disloyal Birbanto, a rather thankless role, since the music he is given calls for mime, but all he is supposed to do is scowl and jump, which he did fervently. Fortunately, he also gets some character dancing, accompanied by the energetic Pirate Woman. His anonymous female was Kristi Boone, and their lively dancing in the Forband was a welcome change from all the male athletics.
Ali, Conrad's loyal slave, was James Whiteside, wearing purple, provided the most exciting athletics. He danced with flair, even managing, in the famous pas de deux, to go up on demi point with both feet on the ground while hoisting Medora, in what could be called a Modified Vasiliev. His dancing was fluid and his turns fast and beautifully controlled.
Yuriko Kajiya was Gulnare, Medora's fellow slave and she managed to get a true measure of pathos in the pas de deux with Lankendem, looking like a fragile porcelin doll. Her dancing had a lightness and elegant footwork, though the sideways lifts, where the legs used to make a beautiful arc, are now stretching exercises, as the legs splay out over 180 degrees, an unattractive and ungainly move. Her solo in the Jardin Animé was particularly lovely, a sprightly contrast to Part's majestic Medora. Jared Matthews as the slave merchant was also strong, and it was good to see the jumping deep plies done with so much control. He is almost too charming, though, for the oleagenous Lankendem.
The odalisques were Simone Messmer, Luciana Paris, and Isabella Boylston, and with dancing like theirs, it does seem a shame that they too, couldn't take part in the Pasha's beautiful dream. But they disappeared into the market after their gloriously anachronistic dancing. The solos had a fine and detailed shading--I hadn't realized before how clever Petipa was in contrasting them and building to a thrilling climax, as the first (Messmer) features elegant footwork, the second (Paris) floating little jumps, and the third (Boylston) an explosion of turns. Disappointing as some aspects of the new production are, nothing can harm the generous nuggets of classicism that grace this ballet, especially when danced by so many of ABT's dancers.
Top: "Le Corsaire" by Gene Schiavone.
Bottom: Veronika Part and Cory Stearns in "Le Corsaire" by Marty Sohl.
copyright © 2013 by Mary Cargill