Alina Cojocaru, Dimitri Gruzdyev, Vadim Muntagirov, Erina Takahashi, Junor Souza
English National Ballet
Milton Keynes Theatre
17 -19 October, 2013
by Judith Cruickshank
copyright 2013 by Judith Cruikshank
Let there be no doubt about it; this is a hugely enjoyable evening. Tamara Rojo was taking a chance when she asked Anna-Marie Holmes to stage her production of “Le Corsaire” for English National Ballet but the result as seen on stage can certainly be counted a success. It is greatly helped by Bob Ringwood’s designs which feature beautiful Orientalist backcloths, brilliantly coloured costumes, lots of glitter and any number of well-toned midriffs on view.
Essentially the plot involves the attempts of Conrad, the corsair, or pirate, of the title, to rescue his girlfriend Medora from the attentions of Lankendem the slave dealer and the elderly Pasha who has purchased her. In this the lovers are aided by the pirate crew, a somewhat ambivalent character in turquoise trousers called Ali and Medora’s friend Gulnara. The important thing about the story such as it is is that it provides plenty of opportunity for all kinds of dancing and a spectacular shipwreck at the end.
The first night Medora was ENB’s newest ballerina Alina Cojocaru who departed from the Royal Ballet this summer in a blaze of publicity and speculation. In the first act variation where she flirts with Conrad and the Pasha she was enchanting, and her dancing throughout was everything her flocks of admirers could wish for. But it has to be said that ENB’s own Erina Takahashi, dancing exquisitely as Gulnara, was in no way overshadowed.
Conrad was Vadim Muntagirov, almost unrecognisable in beard and mustachios, except for the beauty of his dancing. Swagger doesn’t seem to come naturally to him, but he was clearly having fun with the role and further performances will surely heighten the braggadocio. At well over 6ft tall he’s not an ideal partner for the tiny Cojocaru, but it was wonderful to see how smoothly and easily the couple handled the Soviet-style lifts and throws in their duet in Ringwood’s handsome pirate cave.
Junor Souza danced impressively as Ali, soaring elegantly through the variation which Nureyev made so famous (that entire sequence which first made the ballet known to Western audiences is, as we now discover, a much later interpolation). The three lovely odalisques were Shiori Kase, Alison McWhinney and Laurretta Summerscales, all deserving of praise.
The pace of the production gives the audience little chance to understand just why Conrad’s s lieutenant Birbanto chooses to betray him, and unlike in Pyotr Gusev’s production for the Mariinsky he has no opportunity to fire his pistols. But Yonah Acosta scowled with a will. And there were brilliant performances from the Dimitri Gruzdyev as the ingratiating slave dealer Lankendem – a far cry from his usual princely roles and from Michael Coleman, who really made something of the part of the Pasha – often a rather cardboard figure. How he managed to stand upright given the weight of gold and jewels with which his costume is adorned remains something of a mystery.
All the company, villagers, pirates, slave girls and the flowers in the Jardin Anime sequence danced wholeheartedly and the company’s orchestra conducted by Paul Sutherland gave a rousing interpretation of the patchwork score.
The production continues on tour with a number of different casts until December when ENB will open at the London Coliseum with its traditional Nutcracker season. Given the current state of funding for the arts in the UK Rojo must be hoping that audiences around the country will have read the enthusiastic opening night notices and will flock to see something new. She can certainly promise them an enjoyable evening.
Photos, all by Ash. From top:
The pirate's ship.
Alina Cojocaru and Vadim Muntagirov.
Cojacaru and company in the Jardin Animee.