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Le Corsaire Family Matinee


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Tonight Doug Fullington and dancers from the Pacific Northwest Ballet School presented a lecture/demo about the upcoming 80-minute family matinee performances of "Le Corsaire" on Sunday, March 20 at 12:30 and 3:30pm and Saturday, March 26 at 3:30pm.

Doug's sources were from a range of materials, from Stepanov notation to notebooks from a staging a little over a year after the Paris premiere, much like the notebooks used as a basis for PNB's "Giselle," to reviews to photos to film clips by the Russian dancer-filmmaker Shiryaev, who filmed the "Petite Corsaire" solo for Medora, to scores. He consulted with a 19th century dance expert who could interpret what the steps would have been in mid-19th-century France.

Doug emphasized several times that this was a collaboration with the students, who, for example, helped to develop the mime gestures for their characters to convey the emotions and detailed story described in the French notebooks. The length, dictated by the family matinee format, is the only concession: the students face the same choreographic and mime challenges as dancers who danced for Mazillier and Petipa. The results is a coherent whole that carefully considers and respects the choreographic and music sources.

Two casts for the leads were represented, with excerpts presented through the scene where Medora convinces Conrad to release the women, much to the consternation of the pirates. The students' commitment was palpable.

These performances will be among the highlights of PNB's season. If you are in town, do not miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=shiryaev+ballet

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I am still floating on air from having seen the 3:30pm performance this afternoon.

Doug Fullington based this production on a series of sources, including Henri Justamant's 1857 choreographic notation of "Le Corsaire" and the Stepanov notations -- PNB's "Giselle" is similarly strongly based on a combination of these sources -- as well as his research into the musical scores, including the original score, again, similar to his approach with "Giselle," in which he also collaborated with Marian Smith. Unlike in an earlier production in which Doug was a consultant, this collaboration with the students is a mine that has yielded gold.

In my opinion, the commitment that these students, from the youngest to the Professional Division, gave to the style and purpose of this production was equalled by PNB in classical ballet only in Ratmansky's "Don Q." Even "Giselle" took more time to settle and get in the Company's bones. They imbued the allegedly simpler steps and phrases with acceleration and stillness, and with unceasing energy and articulation. The extensive mime blended thoroughly with the dancing, and I was especially impressed with Isaac Bate-Venueza's character acting as Lanquedem and Jesse Newman's affectionate portrayal of Pasha in a time where references to Kos invoke feelings of desperation and mourning, not a sunny place to have a palace.

The performance excerpts were framed by the engaging narrator, Tim Hyland, who was dressed as a pirate, and who was able to fill in gaps that couldn't be shown, due to the 80 minute length of the Family Matinee, and to provide clarity when there was too much to take in in one viewing. (There was one, 15-minute intermission. The line to buy cookies stretched deep into the lobby.)

The ballet was beautifully cast. Roland Spier's Conrad was elegant and loving. Matt Gattozzi had energy to burn as Birbanto, and he was wonderfully matched with Madeline McMillin as his dancing partner, and their Forbans Dance, with demis Madeline Davis, Mackenna Pieper, Raum-Aron Gens-Ostrowski and Eric Zynko, was one of the highlights. I'm generally not taken by bad boys, but even though he's a turncoat and schemer, there's something industrious about him, and Gattozzi never fell into comic book villain characterizations: he played it straight.

Another highlight was the exquisite Dance of the Fans, which the captive women perform in the Grotto Act, to convince Conrad to free them, creating image after image between gestures and groupings, finally setting Medora like a jewel.

Especially in this format, the ballet belongs to Medora, here portrayed by Madison Abeo, and, boy, did she own it: she's got presence, and the kind of presence that sustains. There's a lot of protesting stomping, pouting, and stubbornness in the role, and comedy is difficult enough to play, yet she modulated each one, and like the repetitions of the steps, in which she changed up the dynamics, she did the same with the mime. She also had a wide range of solos, including the stunning Petite Corsaire, which, because of time constraints, she danced in her tutu, instead of having the time to change into a pirate's costume.

The corps was lovely, vibrant, and excellent throughout. One of the young townswoman kept catching my eye, a dark-haired dancer in the rust-colored dress. Her legs and feet were articulate and immaculate, and she had that wonderful Bournonville quality of connecting the phrases musically. Erika Crawford had a similar quality dancing on point as Gulnare, whose role was comparatively short in this version, which ended with the pirates running off with Medora and avoided the shipwreck at the end.

Le Jardin Anime, took its rightful place as the center of the work, here performed after the sole intermission, and it got the biggest ovation of the afternoon, using everyone from small girls to the PD's, plus I think I counted twelve boys. The flowing and weaving patterns and the choreographic invention are just sublime.

The excellent Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra played under Stephen Rogers Radcliffe's direction, and there are professional companies who would be grateful to have an orchestra of this quality. The PNB Costume Shop created a coherent set of costumes -- I'm not sure if there is any other ballet in which there are so many dancers in one costume in one piece like in Le Jardin Anime -- maybe Symphony in C? -- so that was quite a feat. The sets were especially beautiful and inventive, and the Grotto scene in particular was low-tech in the best way.

Everyone who can should see this. This is the real deal. I can't wait to see this again next Saturday.

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Another highlight was the exquisite Dance of the Fans, which the captive women perform in the Grotto Act, to convince Conrad to free them, creating image after image between gestures and groupings, finally setting Medora like a jewel.

This fan dance - the Grand Pas des Eventails - is that notated?

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From the PNB website:

Le Corsaire: A Pirate’s Tale will be reconstructed and staged by PNB’s own Doug Fullington, using century-old dance notation from St. Petersburg, Russia, which represents Marius Petipa’s definitive 1899 version of the ballet, as well as an 1857 notation from Lyon, France, likely based on the Paris original. The 1856 Parisian score by Adolphe Adam, later augmented with music by Cesare Pugni and Léo Delibes, will be performed by the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra. A streamlined version of the story and select dances from the full-length ballet will combine in this fast-paced re-telling of Lord Byron’s epic tale.

I'm sure Doug said in the lec-demo which was the source for the Fan Dance, but my brain is a sieve.

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Thanks for the kind words, Helene. The Stepanov notation includes the Pas de six in the grotto rather than the Pas des Eventails, but the Justamant includes the entire fan dance, of which we did only the first part--for Medora, two demis and 8 corps. Jardin is notated in Stepanov circa 1894--for Medora, Gulnare, and 6 coryphees plus 2 groups of 12 women, 12 girls, 12 men and 12 boys--68 total. We reduced the five groups of 12 to five groups of 8--48 total.

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Thanks for the kind words, Helene. The Stepanov notation includes the Pas de six in the grotto rather than the Pas des Eventails, but the Justamant includes the entire fan dance, of which we did only the first part--for Medora, two demis and 8 corps.

Oh thanks Doug, is that the Pas de six that Petipa added for Adele Granztow?

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Yes, I believe so. This is the divert slot that began with the Pas des Eventails, was changed to the pas de six, back to the Eventails, then to a pas de deux by Sergei Legat, then to the pas de trois by Samuil Andrianov in 1915 that morphed into what we know as the Corsaire pas de deux.

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All information about contracts, roster changes, etc. must be accompanied by a reference to an official source: link, statement that it was announced in a post-performance Q&A or pre- or post-performance announcement, ballet professional's public-facing social media -- ie, no "friend"-like acceptance needed -- etc.

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