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Pas de Deux


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"The Corsaire Pas de Deux" (the famous one between Conrad's slave and Medora) in my opinion doesn't make sense. I would really love it if people could explain the following things:

1. Why Medora and Conrad's Slave dance in the first place. Conrad and Medora don't even have a Pas de Deux.

2. Why Conrad's Slave is so high-and-mighty and shows off throughout his variation. A bit too grand for a SLAVE don't you think? He should be humble and dancing without any self-worthiness.

Also, in the first act Gulnare dances with Lankendem and she is scared throughout while Lankendem is evilly happy at the prospect of getting money. Gulnare only smiles during her variation when Lankendem isn't around and this is because she's still free and she wants to have some fun. The rest of the time she is worried at being sold. This Pas de Deux makes sense as Lankendem is trying to show off Gulnare to the Pasha.

Could someone explain to me how the other Pas de Deux actually makes sense?

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It has a good deal to do with the concept of emploi - of how dancers are used, and what they do. The Conrad/Medora/Ali pas de deux à trois is the ballerina surrounded by a danseur noble and a demi-caractère. Further, read your Byron! Ali is not Conrad's slave. They are pirates, and in context, they are buddies, not superior and subordinate. Corsaire is a lot like an Indiana Jones movie. Also remember, that Lankendem is that scary scary Victorian character the Stage Jew. Think Fagin, think Svengali. God only knows what will happen to Gulnare if the Pasha doesn't pay!

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It clearly says that it is a Pas de Deux a Trois between Medora, Conrad's Slave and Conrad in the ABT version, I am not sure about the Kirov version but in the ABT version, it is definately Conrad's slave as he does go about doing "chores" for Conrad such as going to get Medora in the first act. Maybe in the original Byron Poem he's another Pirate but not in the ballet. That's why he has the feather atop his head and he's shirtless.

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The origins of what has come to be known, initially LE CORSAIRE PAS DE DEUX (and fairly recently in the western ballet world as a “pas de deux a trios” – more or less in line with the “traditional” SWAN LAKE pas de deux a trios involving Odette, Siegfried and Benno), are not clear to historians outside Russia.

My HUNCH is that Aleksandr Ivanovich Chegrygin, the dancer named below in the NYPL dance collection listing for LE CORSAIRE, had some hand in presenting the pas as it became known to westerners, most prominently when Nureyev staged his version for the Royal Ballet in 1962 (see NYPL cat. entry below).

The Chekrygin connection is emphasized in a book I have about Nikolai Zubkovsky, who danced the RAB (Russian for “slave”) in 1939, with the following credits: Slave – pas de deux Medora and Slave in a “version” by A. Chekrygin, for a production of CORSAIR – A. Adam, C. Pugni, in a version of M. Petipa, staging by A. Vaganova.

As is clear here, the number was a pas de deux at this time, which I suppose Vaganova could have paired back from a pas de deux a trios, or perhaps this duet-for-three postdatest his time. The naming of ‘interpolated dance’ in the listing below alas gives no precise date for the addition.

I have a copy of a program from 13 November1899 [old style] for a performance at the Maryinsky led by Legnani, for whom the performance was a benefit – said to be the date of the pas de deux’s first appearance in a dance by Petipa. (A handwritten note on the margins of the ballet’s 2nd scene notes “no pas de duex” and wonders if said number was part of the “scene dansante” listed after the “Grand pas des evantails”.(Nowhere, I might add, does my very primitive “reading” of Russian find the name “Ali” in the libretto’s explication.)

Doug, who has kindly shared with me recently any number of the documents I have on this ballet, can certainly confirm or deny my sense that the Harvard/Stepanov/Sergeyev notations do NOT include the pas de duex in question here – I’m not sure of the notation’s date but I assume it is post-1899.

One thing I think is certain here is that to the Russians the “partner” in the now-famous dance is said to be a slave – the meaning of the Russian word “RAB” [rhab]. My scanning of the Russian text in 1899 program also fails to find the word “rab” as well as Ali.

In addition to the catalogue entries given below, I’m posting a few historic photos:

*One shows Zubkovsky as the “Slave” perhaps is 1939

* another shows Chabukiani in his “slave-chains” in a costume that no doubt was familiar to Nureyev - this photocard lists "Slave" as Chabukiani's role-name and is dated 1939

*and finally a really curious photo of whoknows what production in an undated picture of an unidentified dancer in an equally unidentified role. All I know for certain is that it shows some moment from KORSAR – the Russian name for the ballet. (I suspect this is Conrad, and not the “Slave” - his heeled shoes might indicate that IF there was “classical” duet in whatever place/production depicted, this dancer would NOT have been the one doing the classical dancing.)

I offer the photos for whatever information they provide for further conjecture.

Corsair: Original title: Korsar. Chor: Marius Petipa after Perrot; mus: Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni and Léo Delibes (Pas d'action "Le jardin animé"); lib: Jules Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier after Lord Byron. First perf: St. Petersburg, Bolshoi Theater, Dec 13, 1868 (O.S.)//Revived: St. Petersburg, Bolshoi Theater, 1880; scen: Andrei Roller and Heinrich Wagner executed by Matvei Shishkov and Mikhail Bocharov.//Revived: St. Petersburg, Bolshoi Theater, Jan 13, 1899 (O.S.); scen: Orest Allegri, Vardkes Suren'iants, Sergei Vorob'ev and Piotr Lambin; cos: Evgenii Ponomarev. Interpolated dance choreographed by Aleksandr Chekrygin to music by Riccardo Drigo and others.

Surits. Vsë o balete. p 374.//(Russian) Borisoglebskii. Materialy po istorii russkogo baleta. v 2, p 277.

Corsair: Original title: Le corsaire. Pas de deux. Chor: Rudolf Nureyev after Petipa; mus: Cesare Pugni, Riccardo Drigo, Léon Minkus and others, orchestrated by John Lanchbery. First London perf: Covent Garden, Nov 3, 1962, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.

Dancing times. Dec 1962, p 138.//*MGZB Royal Ballet. Souvenir program. 1963.

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A little further background, further back than Petipa. Byron wrote his poem during the last days of large-scale Mediterranean piracy, and while we might assume that pirates were highly cut-throatty of one another, actual pirates of the 17th-19th centuries lived on ships of considerable democracy. The Captains were actually agreed upon (if not elected) by the crews and nobody had a job he didn't want. It was easy to idealize this lifestyle as the life of a "Noble Savage" and some of the Romantics did so with considerable gusto! Even though there is no intentional politicking in Corsaire, the Turks are The Bad Guys (Byron fought in the rebel Greek army, and neither the French nor the Russians liked them), and the "slave" is only Conrad's retainer because that's his part to play. (Byron was, before everything, a British nobleman!)

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In the poem, Conrad has a sort of apprentice named Juan Gonsalvo. What exactly Gonsalvo does isn't clear in the poem, but he's close with Conrad, who keeps asking for him. How Mazilier got from "Juan Gonsalvo" to "Ali", if indeed he did, is not clear. "Slave", however, might have been Politically Correct for the Soviet doctrine of Marxist/Leninist Realism.

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your reading(s), Mel, far outstrip mine of this poem, which i read once, in haste. i THOUGHT, however, that i came across one passing ref. to a character named Ali, but maybe i hallucinate.

these names are often a crap-shoot, as when clara becomes a Nutcracker heroine, when she was in fact 'originally' only the name of Hoffmann's heroine's doll.

also, none of my perusals of the narrative synopses in CORSAIR/Korsar house programs has any mention(s) whatsoever of an "Ali". the programs i've seen date from the first 1856 CORSAIRE in paris - where to confirm there is no character named ALI in the mazilier cast - through to various versions in Russia in late 19th and early 20th c. moscow and st. petersburg and, again, no mention of Ali in either scene-breakdowns or in cast lists.

chekrygin (b. 1884) began ballet mastering in 1919. i think it's safe to say he had something to do w/ the duet (a trois?) in question here as we've come to know it. perhaps he helped name the character.

what we need is for someone to scan all the data in russian archives into e-documents and to have that scanner translate them into sound english, then we could solve, SOME of our dilemmas, otherwise, i guess, barring a hands-on english-speaking scholar taking up our causes, we're back to our shot-in-the-dark guesswork.

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Most of the "Corsaire" that has come down to us comes from Petipa's 1898 revival with Legnani and Gerdt. I thought I read that the role of the "Slave" was choreographed for Enrico Cecchetti. Often back then, one dancer would handle the mime and porteur duties and another would do the heavy classical dancing in the pas d'action and set pieces. Note Lev Ivanov and Pavel Gerdt splitting Solor in the 1877 "Bayaderka" and Gerdt and Legat splitting the duties again in the 1900 revival. Note also the pas de deux a trois in the original Ivanov "Swan Lake" Act II with Benno giving a helping hand with Odette. It would not surprise me if something similar was done in 1898 with "Corsaire".

I also read that the version we have of the Pas de Deux was set by Vaganova for Dudinskaya and Chabukiani in the early 1930's.

I am just reconstructing what I read in other sources which I cannot quote right now.

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The notations for Le Corsaire, which date from between about 1894 and 1906, do not include the pas de deux to music by Drigo (which dates from 1899). My current opinion is that the dance was indeed a pas de deux and the pas de deux a trois was fashioned in later years. I hope this can eventually be clarified, at least with regard to what was done in the production supervised by Petipa.

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I actually read (somewhere on BT a while ago) that in Swan Lake, Benno does the promenades and Siegfried does the lifts, so I suspect that Benno's involvement has more to do with choreographic structure than "helping out."

As far as Le Corsaire goes, whenever the "Slave" pas de trois is performed as a pas de deux, I think it looks ridiculous. Poor Ali has to run back and forth across the stage to be on the correct side of Medora, who has to stand there (instead of walking across the stage to Conrad) as Ali buzzes around her. If it was originally a pas de deux, I imagine the structure must have been very different from what we see today, as it doesn't really work IMO without three people.

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I don't think the ballet has much to do with Byron, if the ballet followed Byron's story there would be no Medora at all, as she is Conrad's 'off stage' wife who dies of grief after hearing of his capture and death sentence by the Pasha. It is Gulnara who is the heroine as she knifes the Pasha and rescues Conrad, whom she fell in love with when he saved her from the burning harem at the time of one of his raids.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Byron knew Turkey, Greece and the Balkans like the back of his hand and had met a few Pashas in his time (one of whom fancied him). The land he loved best was Greece though and he died fighting for her freedom. Today he is a national hero in Greece.

Conrad, by the way is Byron himself (all the clues are there). The work must have meant a lot to him as his daughter by his half sister, Augusta Leigh, was named Medora.

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I study Byron's "Corsaire" as a sort of "the other end of the telescope" from "Don Juan". The latter is brilliant, the former is a really silly poem by a great artist. Sort of like contrasting Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory" against the Ninth Symphony! I wish I had the time and resources to research it more fully.

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