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ABT's Corsaire, Friday


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 11:31 AM

Warning: If you liked "Corsaire," don't read this <img border="0" title="" alt="[Smile]" src="smile.gif" />

Cheap, Cheap, Thrills or
Turn, Turn, Turn or
Where is the Arab Anti-Defamation League when we need them?

I didn't expect much from ABT's "Le Corsaire." I'd seen the TV broadcast. But I thought, if I could block out the fact that this had once been a ballet, I'd enjoy the dancing. I didn't. Inspired more by Pepsi commercials than anything that had once lived in Petipa's imagination -- much less Byron's -- this relentless exhibition of turns and jumps, the "acting" ranging from simpering to leering, looked like the cast of some teen heartthrob TV show putting on a play about pirates with the boy gymnasts invited in to, like, you know, wow the girls. I kept thinking of what Ari wrote last week about Joffrey and Lilac Garden: that they were kids, and Lilac was a grownup ballet, and they shouldn't be doing it.

After the first act, I wanted a cleansing program -- Concerto Barocco, Symphonic Variations, Les Noces (Nijinska), say. After it was over, I thought I'd need an entire week of Kei Takei's "Light," something spare, thoughtful, meaningful.

The dancing was full of tricks -- everyone does the same tricks, which is why I call it "relentless" -- but the tricks were unevenly delivered, and the dancing certainly not sophisticated. This was more Broadway dancing using classical steps than classical dancing. It's sell, sell, sell. Do every trick you know every time you take the stage. I've never been as conscious of pirouettes as I have this season; it's as though they've just been invented. What was once a classical variation that included pirouettes is now a series of pirouettes with a few minor embellishments. Every step that's not a pirouette or a jump doesn't seem to matter. It's slurred or swallowed, or turned into a preparation for THE JUMP and Look How Many Pirouettes I Can Do.

Julie Kent was Medora and either had an off night or her technique is failing. She fell out of turns, couldn't finish the fouettes and her dancing lacked power and authority. Only the "nightie" pas de deux, where she went into her totally irrelevant Juliet-Manon act, was well-danced, and that was so studied I found it hard to watch. Far more serious than any technical failings, Kent did not dominate the ballet. I kept remembering what Ulanova had made of her entrance in Baksischirai -- veiled, carried by bearers, and, through her body, letting the audience know that she was a captive, that a horrible crime had been committed, that she had been violated (and this is from only viewing a video). Kent wears an ear to ear grin. Ain't being kidnapped a blast! Her presence was neither more nor less than that of the odalisques (who are dancing in the wrong act, but who the hell cares?). As Conrad, the putative hero, Ethan Stiefel looked like Colas with a pencilled on moustache. His dancing was off, as well; none of his tricks had any punch, and several landings were quite shaky.

Lankhadem was Gennadi Saveliev. He got most -- though certainly not all -- of the barrel turns; the jumps were high enough, but I can't remember seeing someone deliver a virtuoso solo so cleanly, yet producing so little excitement. The audience gave them a screaming standing ovation at the end, but they sat on their hands most of the night, and I couldn't feel any electricity in the theater. That much dancing delivered at so high a level of energy becomes enervating. The dancers don't seem to know how to phrase -- vary the dynamics, show that this step is more important than that one. Exceptions: Michelle Wiles, as one of the Odalisques, and Kent, in her Jardin Animee solo, and -- surprise! -- Paloma Herrera, who had her best night of several seasons as Gulnare, especially the harem pants numbers, which suit her. (Her Jardin Animee solo was the one disappointment. She's working on the arms, she's trying to soften her line, but it hasn't yet been internalized.)

The three odalisques (Murphy -- whose turns were thrilling -- Wiles, and Maria Riccetto) danced in such different styles they seemed to come from different continents. The fact that both Murphy and Wiles are tall virtuosos and Riccetto is a slight woman whose dancing has the impact of a flying feather, didn't help.

And then there's De Luz, as Birbanto. Well. This is like casting the boy Mickey Rooney in an Edward G. Robinson role. When he pulls out that poisoned flower, we're suddenly watching Puck in Midsummer. Carreno was Ali and his dancing didn't measure up to other memories, either. Carreno's stage presence is like a blinking light -- when he's on stage, he's on, but there's no connection between one appearance and the next. Although all the men looked as though the stage was just too small for them, this was most obvious in Carreno's dancing. Yes, it is smaller than the Met stage. We don't need to be reminded of that in every male solo. Adjust to it. The Kirov did.

Isn't slavery fun? Aren't pirates just the cutest little things? Aren't those Arabs asses? Look at the harem girls quake! Wave your arm, free them. Scamper off. There we go, time for SOME MORE DANCING. Why not just do some back flips and be done with it? We'll clap for that.

In the early 19th century in Paris, you had your Paris Opera, and you had your Boulevard theaters. The latter attracted an audience who found the POB stuffy and high art rather silly. They wanted more action, more virtuosity. The theaters presented scaled down versions of what was done on the opera stage, often mocking it because they couldn't deliver it straight. This production is a Boulevard production. Why did it bother me so much? Because it's becoming pervasive, and ABT's way of delivering the goods is becoming international standard, and it's seven steps down. I don't care that Houston does "Dracula". If they like it, good for them. I don't have to see it, and the major companies in the world aren't imitating Houston Ballet.

These are good dancers, and they can do better than this. They deserve better than this. The Kirov did "Corsaire" here about a decade ago. They brought down the house but there was also electricity from start to finish; they brought the audience into the ballet with them. The Kirov dancers had fun with the ballet, but they didn't trash it. Both Asylmuratova and Terekhova, very different ballerinas with very different approaches, touched the heart as Medora. Who is not a cute little winking thing who's sweet on the boy next door who just happens -- ooh! ooh! -- to be a pirate.

I'm going to both performances today and, as always, I live in hope. Dvorovenko and Ananiashvili know the ballet, and they're grown ups.

<small>[ March 09, 2002, 12:34 PM: Message edited by: alexandra ]</small>

#2 Ari

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 01:00 PM

Well, Corsaire didn't make me as angry as it did Alexandra (perhaps because this is the sort of thing I expect from ABT), but I did think it was the silliest damn ballet I've ever seen. I also saw the Kirov production. I didn't like it, but as Alexandra said, it wasn't trashy the way ABT's is. This production struck me as a sort of balletic Cymbeline, a mishmash of other ballets. Here's a bit from Giselle, there's some of Coppelia, that's the part from Midsummer about the drugged flower, Medora's entrance was the White Cat in Beauty, the ending was Swan Lake, etc. The Jardin Animé was static to the point of inertia, and the pas de trois in the second act looks infinitely better as the Corsaire pas de deux party piece. (Did anyone else think of Conrad as Benno in the SL pas de deux?) I didn't understand why Conrad isn't dressed like a pirate, and drowning Gulnare and the Slave seems uncharitable after we've seen so much of them. But trying to make sense of such an absurd ballet is a waste of time. I did like Maria Riccetto as one of the Odalisques, though.

#3 liebs

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 05:14 PM

And we think the plot of Raymonda is silly?

#4 BalletNut

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 05:48 PM

quote:


Originally posted by alexandra:
Why not just do some back flips and be done with it? We'll clap for that.


Interestingly enough, that's what one of my friends told me when she saw the PBS broadcast! biggrin.gif

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 07:23 PM

We're obviously kindred spirits. Please get her posting biggrin.gif

#6 fondu65

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Posted 09 March 2002 - 11:50 PM

Oh, dear me! Fools rush in…. I had hoped that there might be a more experienced and knowledgable BAer who would come to the defense of this performance, but since no one has stepped forward I find it left to me to pick up the gauntlet. I have not seen the Kirov's version of Le Corsaire mentioned by previous posters. I base my remarks on the assumption that the ABT Video of Le Corsaire (for Dance in America in 1999) is the archetype on which Kevin McKenzie wants this production judged. The principals in the Video are in large part the same as for the performance on Friday evening. March 8th, with the following exceptions:

Character : Ali: In the Video, Angel Corella. In the KC perf. 3/8/02, Jose Manuel Carreño
Character: Lankendem: In the video, Vladimir Malakhov. In the KC perf. 3/8/02, Gennadi Saveliev

During McKenzie's introduction to the video he says that he envisions the ballet as "the rip roaring fun of a 19th century story, politically incorrect attitudes and over the top performance values." Basically, a lighthearted frolic of a ballet. It was with this in mind that I watched the video and formed my expectations for the live performance. I must say that I enjoyed the Friday evening performance enormously! The costumes, the music, the DANCING were wonderful! One may argue with the production values but then that IS what anyone who purchased tickets should have expected to see. It is arguable, that a dancer's role interpretation far off the mark set by that in the video is not carrying out the intent of the Director.

Given that one had suspended disbelief sufficiently to watch so politically incorrect a story as pirates and the sale of slave girls set to music and danced in tutus and pointe shoes, it was a simple matter to take the fantasy just a bit further and have them smile.

Perhaps we didn't get the full 32 fouettés from Kent. Too, I thought that Carreño did not have the animal magnetism and panache of Corella as Ali (as seen in the video), but none the less I was very pleased to see Kent who I love and Carreño's interpretation of the role.

I was also pleased to see the multiple pirouettes and jumps and there was sufficient music to accommodate them too. And I love 180º extensions. (In for a penny in for a pound) As for Savliev's barrel turns, those were not in my copy the video and as a result were a delicious surprise! I can say for a fact that the first tier audience was humming with gasps and comments and was not found sitting on its hands at the conclusion of his performance. He got a very enthusiastic round of applause from all of us in the first tier.

I was particularly pleased with the performances of the Odalisques especially the one on house right (who I think of as the 3rd Odalisque) whose steps consisted primarily of beats. I could not identify her even when I later pulled their photos from the ABT site. My thought is that she was Michele Wiles. Can someone (Alexandra or Ari or another knowledgeable poster) identify her for me please? One of the things that I noticed about my 3rd Odalisque was that her shoes were very quiet, which is a big plus in my book. However, that opens the possibility that the 3rd Odalisque was danced by Gillian Murphy and her Gaynor Mindens. Thought the 3rd Odalisque's feet looked great - just in case she turns out to be Murphy. I'm trying to keep my contrarian streak going here.

The Boulevardier

[ March 10, 2002, 06:28 AM: Message edited by: fondu65 ]

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 10 March 2002 - 12:05 AM

fondu, of the odalisques, Maria Riccetta (sp, I'm without my program) was the small, dark-haired woman. Gillian Murphy did the turns -- a series of quadruple pirouettes -- and Michelle Wiles did the second variation. Both Murphy and Wiles are blondes. Wiles is a bit taller than Murphy. Hope that helps smile.gif

I'd also mention that the televised cast wasn't the first night cast (when the ballet had its company premiere), so I'm not sure that the televised cast can be considered the company's ideal.

#8 fondu65

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Posted 10 March 2002 - 07:24 AM

Thanks Alexandra. The Odalisque was definitely blond. I didn't think that I would have missed the quad pirouettes, but then…. I have rerun the Odalisque portion of the video several times to see if I can pinpoint the part that impressed me so in the live perf. In the video, that point seems to be at the end of the 'quad turns Odalisques' (Murphy's in the 3/8 perf) variation which, if correct, would account for the quiet shoes. But the video is edited so that I can't be certain. This just points up (again) the fact that there is no substitute for seeing multiple live performances of the same ballets. Thanks too for the tip that the video cast wasn't the 1st night cast.

The Boulevardier

#9 novamom

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Posted 10 March 2002 - 02:11 PM

Did anyone see the Sat. evening performance? Fondu65, I too enjoyed ABT's Le Corsaire tremendously. And we too clapped loudly at each pause, and there are plenty of them in this ballet. Major lead roles were:Julio Bocca danced the part of Conrad, Herman Cornejo, his pal, Ali was danced by Angel Corella; Lankendem by an amazing Gennadi Saveliev; Medora, by the beautiful Nina Ananiashvili, Gulnare by Ashley Tuttle. I thought the dancing and the enthusiasm were such that the few baubles could be overlooked as they did not detract from the performance. One such flaw occurs when Midora discovers Conrad has come to save her in the Pasha's palace. Midora and Gulnare then dance together ending facing each other on one knee. Nina Ananiashvili seemed to slip slightlI and sat down a bit on stage. Seeing this, Ms. Tuttle did likewise, and the two looked at each other with no clue of a misstep. If you had not seen the ballet before,or, were looking for flaws you would never have known! My entire family thought it was a beautiful performance. Ms Ananiashvili showed such passion!
The Odalisques were not as well matched as they could have been, but there was an adendum to the program stating that the Odalisques were to be danced by Maria Riccetto, Stella Abrera, and Anna Liceica. The latter did not seem quite as well prepared. That is to be expected, I think, from time to time. We never anticipate a perfect performance. But last night, the dancing and enthusiasm were wonderful. We thoroughtly enjoyed the evening.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 01:32 PM

Novamom, I'm sorry. I posted about Saturday on a new thread before I'd seen your post here. (I try to make new threads for different casts, because it's sometimes one of the explanations for why did X think this (on Friday) and I think that (about Sunday afternoon)?

Thanks for your comments, and thanks to both you and fondu for posting your reviews. smile.gif

#11 dirac

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 02:44 PM

"They had been coached to nail their routines; most of them did, and deserve high marks for technical merit." -- From Sarah Kaufman's Corsaire review.

A modest proposal for ABT. Why not simply do away with the pretense of presenting "Le Corsaire" or indeed any ballet, and just present the dancers jumping, turning, with fancy footwork, to the music for all they are worth? Toss in some "artistic" phrasing, pretty costumes, and toothy smiles for good measure. You needn't bother with a live orchestra; taped music will do.

To make it even more interesting and create lots of public buzz, you could have judges, especially emotional French ones, scoring the number of pirouettes, their speed, execution, musical timing, and so forth.

#12 Alexandra

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 03:49 PM

Augh! You've scooped me -- or Mme. Theo, actually. We have a similar proposal coming out in the next Ballet Alert! (Mme. Theo is our resident prima ballerina assoluta. She danced for the Czar. She knows Corsaire, Corsaire is a friend of hers, etc. etc. etc.)

I noticed that one of the British reviews of the "Enduring Images" program (or was it "Enduring Memories?" they all run together, anyway, the modern one) said she expected to see marks for technical merit and artistic impression flash across the screen. We've all evidently been watching the Olympics smile.gif

#13 cargill

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 06:43 PM

When ABT first did Corsaire, I have to say I really did enjoy it, but thinking back, it came right after the premiere of The Snow Maiden, and anything with a hint of choreography would look like a masterpiece! By the second year, though, it looked worse, unfortunately. They had taken out some of the female dancing (a charming variation for the Pasha's favorite, wearing harem pants), and beefed up the male contingent even more. It has gotten broader and broader each time I have seen it, and it doesn't wear well. I just want to scream when Birbanto--a mime role if there ever was one--starts prancing around like everyone else. Malakhov managed to get some character in the slave owner (I won't try to spell it!), but everyone else I saw was just doing steps. One hint--leave after the Jardin Animee, and you will miss some of the extraneous prancing.
Clearly there has to be more to the ballet than this production has in it, because Medora was such a popular role, but I find repeated viewings of this to be very dispiriting. It is clearly the approach to this ballet, because La Bayadere has become richer and more nuanced in its 20 years of performance, while Corsaire has become more and more empty and cartoonish.

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 07:32 PM

Mary, I think it matters a great deal what one has been seeing. When "Corsaire" was new, too, it seemed the dawn of a new era -- all these exciting young dancers. One could forgive them the odd leap or turnturnturnturnturnturn there. Also, compared to "Snow Maiden" -- and what is out there -- I can imagine it would look like a masterpiece. With the Ananiashvili cast, it at least looked like the Readers Digest version of a Petipa ballet.

Also, watching ABT in New York, and considering "Corsaire" as a part of its whole repertory is quite different than watching it in isolation. There's nothing wrong with an entertaining ballet, and people do enjoy watching "Corsaire." If it were just the repertory's dessert, that would be one thing. But I fear it's a trend.

What worries me about "Corsaire" is what it's bred, and will probably breed. I think of it as the Lincoln Bedroom of ballet smile.gif (A Washington reference. Every president offered access in exchange for donations -- the $25,000 breakfast here, the $100,000 dinner there. But charging X amount to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom crossed a line -- or did a triple saut de basque over the line -- for members of both parties.) McKenzie's "Swan Lake" seemed to be in the mold of "Corsaire." I fear more.

Your point about Bayadere becoming more rich is an interesting one - the same thing could happen wtih this one. A bit of pruning here and a bit of addiing there would make a difference. Ananiashvili and Bocca took about 30 seconds at three points in the ballet to make the plot clear, and it made a huge difference.

#15 cargill

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Posted 11 March 2002 - 08:53 PM

I really don't think that the way ABT has approached Corsaire will let it get richer. Bayadere has real villans who do not look or move like every other dancer--the High Brahmin and the Radjah. These are both mime roles, small in terms of time on stage but very important and memorable. Corsaire's villans--Lankendem and Birbanto--just dance (or jump, which is not the same thing!) and can never develop nuances. The contempt which ABT showed towards the ballet in the TV version during the intermission chatter, I'm afraid, can't help but come across. Yes, I did think of the damage the cavalier approach to Corsaire had done when I first saw the untheatrical mess that ABT made of Swan Lake.


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