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Le Corsaire


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Having recently seen the Kirov's Le Corsaire live, I decided to pull out my DVD's and have a small Le Corsaire marathon for comparative purposes.

I think the Kirov's version makes more dramatic sense. Even though ABT includes more dancing for Medora in Act I, the whole thing is rather silly. Medora is a slave in Lankedem's possession, but she's carried about on a litter wearing a glittery tutu--seems more like a wealthy courtesan to me. Julie Kent as Medora is not particularly afraid of being sold to the Pasha (she flirts with him a good deal), she just likes Conrad more.

The Kirov, on the other hand, shows Medora, Gulnara, and their friends being captured on the beach, and Asylmuratova is quite frantic at being sold in the slave market. This type of situation creates more tension--you realize she may never see Gulnara or her other friends/family again. ABT's Medora doesn't seem to have connections to anyone except a rather vague friendship with Gulnare. She doesn't know the other slave girls and only seems to notice them when they ask her to intercede with Conrad on their behalf.

A nice touch the Kirov includes is that the pirates don't just rescue Medora and her friends; they include all the woman being sold. ABT's pirates wave their swords at the slave girls menacingly as they take them to the grotto.

ABT does include a dance for the pirates in Act I that the Kirov omits, as well as a bit of important mime in Act III that goes a long way toward advancing the plot (when Medora tells Conrad that she's the one who cut Birbanto's arm).

As far as the Jardin Animé (Pas des Fleurs) goes, I think we can all agree that between the boys and girls from the Vaganova Academy, the three huge fountains in the back, and a large, perfect corps, that the Kirov has everyone beat. :) If only they'd do something about that hideous backdrop and fuzzy "garlands" that appear to be made of large pipe cleaners.

Do we know what the original Le Corsaire was like in terms of Medora's characterization? I was surprised at the large differences between the Act I music in these productions; it leads me to believe that Act I was originally rather longer than it is currently presented by either company.

Channeling Doug. :)

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Le Corsaire, as it has come down to us, is built a lot like a buddy movie, like the Indiana Jones series and the Michael Douglas Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile. There's romance, a gorgeous female star, adventure, fantasy, and farcical villains. (When the pasha enters on his litter, the only thing he lacks is a big flag sticking out of it saying, "Support Your Local Pasha".) How a company handles all these elements is what makes a production successful, or less so.

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Hans writes:

Julie Kent as Medora is not particularly afraid of being sold to the Pasha (she flirts with him a good deal), she just likes Conrad more.

The difference could be in the approach of the two companies. I remember when ABT’s “Le Corsaire” was broadcast, there were interviews with Kevin McKenzie and company members included, and everyone seemed to be trying to convey the impression that the plot was confusing and laughable and not worth bothering with. It is possible to create drama and characters within a fantasy plot. I don’t know for certain, but I feel sure that the original conception of Medora was closer to Asylmuratova than Kent.

Thanks, Hans, very interesting comments!

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I don’t know for certain, but I feel sure that the original conception of Medora was closer to Asylmuratova than Kent.

I imagine so too, dirac, although Mel's comments seem to imply that a dancer could go from one characterization to the other within moments and no one would bat an eye. Was Le Corsaire thought of as silly at its premiere or was it considered a serious drama?

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[Was Le Corsaire thought of as silly at its premiere or was it considered a serious drama?

Good question. I hope one of our Russian ballet mavens answers it.

The Kirov version hans desribes reminds me of the prologue to ABT's Swan Lake, where you get to see Odette captured (enslaved) by Rothbart. It sets the context of innocence trampled on by evil (lust, greed, or whatever).

I echo dirac's thoughts about the ABT televised Corsaire. Those cringe-making comments by the dancers suggested to me that they were mouthpieaces for the artistic director. The vision they suggested made me think of plots frequently acted out by Olive Oyl, Bluto and Popeye. Smirk/wink.

I'm not saying that this ballet should be played like an anti-slavery tract, but the original Byron poem -- which audiences at the first performances would most likely have known -- is full of passion and real feeling about the justice and injustice of what is going on. And it seems odd, in our day, to turn these characters into inhabitants of the Land of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

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Look at the genre being employed. It's more like melodrama of the "villain still pursued 'er" variety. Remember, this ballet is restaged after a good cycling through Petersburg, and the ancestral enemy of Russia was the Ottoman Empire. It's only a short rollover of hermeneutic from melodrama to farce! It's a cinch that the Russians would make a ballet that would show the people they don't like as fools. At least the role of Lankendam has some honest dancing to do. Originally, he was Isaac Lankendam, a stage Jew of the Shylock variety. (Nobody ever accused the Imperial court of being philosemitic) It took about 200 years for an actor (David Garrick) to play the last-named as a serious character, and not as some sort of dialect comedian.

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I was under the impression that ABT obtained this production from the Bolshoi. If so it's a Constantine Sergeyev version with more links to the original story than the Vinogradov Kirov one. By the original story I mean the storyline set out in Beaumont's book of ballets.

I only know the ABT production from the video I'm afraid, but if it is the old Bolshoi/Sergeyev then a lot of changes have been made since ABT got hold of it. Which production is the better I'm not sure, the Kirov one makes better dramatic sense, but I prefer the score that ABT uses. The acting appeared better in the ABT version, but whether that was down to the production or the abilities of the dancers I don't know.

By the way there is little to connect the Byron poem with the ballet, basically it's just the names. Conrad is the corsaire in both, but Gulnare is the main female character, saved from the burning seraglio by Conrad after a raid, she rescues him from prison and kills the Pasha. Medora is referred to only as Conrad's grieving wife who is dead on his return to his island lair. It's still a good read I would say.

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While ABT still presents it as a comic melodrama, it has settled nicely onto the company.

I question the wisdom of committing it to video while it was still relatively new to the company. They had not yet hit their stride in it and make a much better impression now. I guess the commercial calculation was the lure of the new. Once again, art and commerce butt heads.

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There was a famous solo for Medora where she wore a sailor suit and danced a jig on the pirate ship I think - I would guess this was a character dance and not on pointe. It may have originally been created by Petipa for his first wife Marie Petipa. Does the choreography still exist in some form? (Sergeyev collection?).

It has never been used in any production I have seen. Does the Maly production use it? I think it was danced by Olga Preobrazhenskaya and she would have remembered the choreography.

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I do not like the ABT version of "Le Corsaire" at all. The Kirov version is far superior in all respects, though you can tell that many choreographers and ballet masters over the years have had thier hands in revising it (if there is any ballet that Sergei Vikharev should re-construct, its "Le Corsaire", maintaining the traditional pas of course!).

ABTs version and the Kirovs differ so much. The only thing that the two productions really have in common are the traditional pas and that have come down from Petipa (the pas d'esclave, the grand pas, the mazurka of pirates, the classical trio of the odalisques, and the scene Jardin Anime).

All of the incidental music in ABTs version is completely differrent from the Kirovs. Since it is the Kirovs version that this staging stems from, it makes me wonder where ABT got the music from, I mean, its completely different! Aslo, much of the music that is in both stagings is re-orchestrated in the ABT production. Compare if you like, the music for the pas de trois of the odalisques or the pas d'esclave.

The next thing that I find absolutly ridiculous about the ABT staging is the "pirates of the carribean" way that the pirates are portyed in thier staging. The ballet "Le Corsaire" calls for very different kinds of pirates - exotic Corsaires from the mid-east, not the kind that spawned captain hook or black beard. And lets not forget that awful skull and crossbones flag on the boat in the ABT version.

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Perhaps someone on the board knows when the Bolshoi acquired Le Corsaire--if it was a long time ago, that could account for some of the differences considering the various restagings the ballet would have gone through. There is some additional dancing in Act I for Medora that I wouldn't mind seeing kept as it appears to be Petipa (although just as much of it seems to be "after" or "in the style of" Petipa) and you are right, the incidental music between the two productions is completely different--different, IMO, beyond the inevitable variations in who uses which particular version of the score. Act I in particular is like a completely different ballet besides the "set pieces" of the Pas d'Esclave and the Pas de Trois des Odalisques. (Even the choreography for Gulnara differs between the two versions, but one can't always be picky about that.)

Maybe Doug or Mel knows something?

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I think the ballet got pretty well hacked up over the years. If you read about the 1840-something original in Beaumont's "Complete Book of the Ballets" it sounds completely different. There are plot changes (Medora and Conrad were in love at the ballet's opening. She's sold into haremdom by Lankadehm -- who is her guardian!! (and who, of course, did not dance) And the score was a complete whole, all by Adam. So all of those interpolations came later. (An amusing aside. One website that sells the DVD lists all the composers, including Prince. They count "Prince Oldenburg" as two composers -- Prince and Oldenburg).

It got to Russia in the late 19th century and my guess is that by at least the 1920s, they'd started to work their wicked ways :)

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KORSAR as the russians call their ballet entered bolshoi rep. in 1858.

the russian encyc. of russian ballet notes a 1956 film of some, presumably russian, produciton of the ballet, but gives no particulars.

the most recent bolshoi staging, from which ABT's comes, was first done in 1992, by k.sergeyev - thus it has a st.pete/leningrad lineage - i suspect k.s. was in some way wanting to have his 'say' likely b/c it differed in some way(s) from the gusev-based version then being done at the kirov. (a '94 prod. seems to be a slight revamping of this bolshoi theater prod. by grigorovich - for nearly the same cast as the one that led in '92, i.e. Gracheva as Medora; A. Vetrov as Conrad.)

david vaughan did a substantive review of THE PIRATE/Le Corsaire for THE DANCING TIMES on the occasion of a-m holmes staging of sergeyev's production for boston ballet. he gives a longish rundown of composers whose hands once were involved in the ballet's score over the years.

here's the NYPL's cat. info for the article:

Vaughan, David

Le corsaire in Boston.

Dancing times. London. June 1997, p. 831, 833. ill.

Review of Boston Ballet's Le corsaire.

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