I was not going to dive so deep into political questions. I guess the art (especially the old one) should not be approached from that side. I only tried to tell, that if a gentleman comes to a party in a costume but without pants, it would be too snobbish to discuss a color of his tie.
A lot to be said about Le Corsaire, but I will restrict myself by a few topics.
Negress vs. Old Maid
Words change their meaning being transferred from one language into another. “Negr” in Russian has no negative color as in modern English, it was used many times in literature of 20th century. Say, by Vladimir Mayakovsky ("да будь я и негром преклонных годов”) or by Andrey Voznesensky (“мы негры, мы поэты”), or by Evegeny Evtushenko (“и, согбенный, будто в рабстве негр”), etc, etc. Do you think they all were racists? The word “black” (“черный”) is much more dangerous in modern Russian when applied to different nations (not only to Africans, but also to people from Caucasus). So one has to be very careful in translation, and if one finds a discrepancy between Russian and English texts one has to ask himself “why” before to make a verdict. As an example: a translation of verses by Evtushenko into English does not contain the quoted line at all.
The wrong statements were made here about Isaac Lankedem. Russian speaking readers could find it interesting to have a look at the detailed historical description
of different versions of Le Corsaire including the original synopsis of 1858 (the first version in Russia staged by Perrot) and that of 1899 (the last version in Petipa’s life). The latter was taken almost one to one by Ratmansky and Burlaka. “Almost” because both texts contain the name Isaac (as well as “The Negress”), but an epithet “Jew-renegade” is omitted now (probably as unknown to the ordinary audience).
”Closer to the original”
Should be taken cum grano salis
. When one refers to the intentions of Ratmansky and Burlaka “to be closer to the original” one should not forget the second part of this statement - “but not loosing valuable artistic achievements of the 20th century”. They tried to create a ballet which would not be dusty museum exhibit. So I think it is quite normal if Conrad replaces nameless cavalier.
This is an approach of the Bolshoi, its know-how: to take an old synopsis as it stands (that is not to change a story, as was done more than once in Soviet time), to preserve what can be preserved from the choreography and to compose the parts lost with the time. The Flames of Paris declined from this route because of evident political reasons, but they will be back with Esmeralda in December (BTW, will you buy the happy end: a poor Gipsy girl is not executed but marries a noble captain of the Royal Guard), the same is planned for the future Desyatnikov-Ratmansky’s Les Illusions Perdues.
Best in the World
I found this approach fruitful. As the result we have in the current Le Corsaire a lot of original dances: a full version of Pas d’Esclave (Entrée is twice longer than usual), a full version of Medora’s variation Finesse d’amour in the 1st act, traditional pd2, Le Petit Corsaire, a full version of Le Jardin Anime (to compare, it is 8-9 minutes longer than le Jardin in Munich, where it was reconstructed by Doug Fullington), traditional pd3 of Odalisques, additional variations of Medora and Gulnara in the 3rd act. This is a brilliant collection of real masterpieces by Petipa.
The story is silly? Yes, who doubts? And who cares? Not me - then even stronger is a motivation to enjoy the pure dance. I watched Le Corsaire in many (about 10) versions and think that Bolshoi’s production is the best. The second prize I would give to Sergeyev’s version which was performed at the Bolshoi for a couple of years at the beginning of 90s.
Is Bolshoi’s Le Corsaire free of disadvantages? No, it is not. Is it perfect? No, it is not. Could it be better? Certainly, yes. Let’s wait until the better production will appear elsewhere. And let’s enjoy the dance of the Bolshoi now.