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Tom47

Re-Imagining Le Corsaire:

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I enjoy the music and the dancing of the ballet Le Corsaire very much, but one thing I do not like is the story.  To me the story is the least important part of a ballet, but it is a part of the ballet.  It seems I am not the only person who feels this way.  This link goes to an article by Jennifer Stahl entitled “Why Le Corsaire is My Favorite ‘Terrible’ Ballet:” https://www.dancemagazine.com/le-corsaire-favorite-terrible-ballet-2434665976.html and this one goes to an article by Ivy Lin entitled “Wildly offensive, but wildly entertaining too: ABT’s Le Corsaire:” https://bachtrack.com/review-corsaire-american-ballet-theatre-new-york-june-2019.  In addition, ABT seems to recognize that there are “. . . images that some find offensive . . .”  See here for their disclaimer: https://dancetabs.com/2019/06/american-ballet-theatre-le-corsaire-new-york-3/ in an article written by Lauren Gallagher.  And in this article by Lyndsey Winship, Misty Copeland, who has portrayed Gulnare, is quoted as saying “You think of Corsaire as this light thing, but it’s not really – it’s about slaves, these women chained up:” https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/nov/20/fu-manchu-moustaches-blackface-does-ballet-have-a-race-problem.  The irony is that the story of the ballet is not like Lord Byron’s 1814 poem that is stated to have inspired this ballet.  So, for my own enjoyment I thought up a new story for Le Corsaire that uses pretty much the same music and the same chorography and which, as it turns out, is closer to the story of the poem.  I am not saying that the story of the ballet is wrong in anyway, just that I like this one much better.  Here is the first art which corresponds to the first Canto of the poem.

 

Act 1 patterned after the current Act 2.  At the beginning of the ballet a group of female corsaires led by two corsaires named Helena and Zobeide rush onto the stage.  These two would be friends and would be the leaders of the female corsaires.  This could be to the to the music near the beginning of the current first act where the male corsaires, Birbanto and Conrad first enter the Bazaar.  Medora, Conrad and Ali and the male corsaires are either already standing around or soon enter.  The corsaires are celebrating a recent successful raid.  Lanquedem and Birbanto are not involved in this as they are not in the ballet.  Also, there is no attempted mutiny.  Medora dances her Petit Corsaire and Medora, Ali and perhaps Conrad dance the pas de deux or pas de trois.  Helena and Zobeide, engage in a friendly contest possibly involving drinking, dueling, wrestling or target shooting with pistols, depending on the music.  The act ends as Conrad explains that they are to go on a new raid that night, not to rescue anyone, but in a preemptive act to destroy the Pasha’s fleet as he is planning to attack the corsaire’s stronghold the following day.  During this first act, the female corsaire’s hair is let down so that it flows as they dance, representing that they are free.

 

Tom,

Edited by Tom47

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The following is acts 2 and 3 of the re-imagined Le Corsaire:

 

Act 2 starts as the original Act 3 and corresponds to the second Canto of the poem.  In his palace the Pasha is hosting a banquet in anticipation of the raid on the corsaire’s lair the next day.  There are no female slaves there.  Conrad enters disguised as a seller of slaves with three female corsaires disguised as odalisques, who may possibly be Medora, Helena and Zobeide.  They wear tutus and their hair is tied up in a bun.  They start their dance as the Pasha provides Conrad with refreshments and as the two men talk.  Shortly after the end of the dance of the three odalisques, a bright light is seen outside the palace window and a loud explosion is heard.  This is the result of the corsaires setting fire to the Pasha’s fleet.  At that moment Conrad reveals himself and the three “odalisques,” the female corsaires, let loosen their hair so it flows around and grab their swords, which are in Conrad’s bag.  They all start to fight the palace guards.  Just then equal numbers of female and male corsaires enter and join the fight.  The female and male corsaires would be dress similarly except for the three who had been disguised as odalisques who would still be wearing tutus.  They now outnumber the palace guards and push them off the stage.  The music and choreography for this fight scene can come from the end of the current first act and from the current second act.  Smoke is then seen coming from under a large door.  Realizing that the palace is on fire and that their mission is accomplished all the corsaires, except for Conrad, leave the stage.  Conrad realizes that the smoke is coming from the harem and that the door is locked from the outside trapping the women inside.  He rushes to the door, unlocks it and helps Gulnare out and the other women also run out.  The harem slaves have their hair tied up.  With this the palace guards return, Conrad fights them, but is soon wounded and captured.  Gulnare witnesses all of this and witnesses the guards dragging Conrad away.  Alone on the stage she begins an emotional, sorrowful dance that ends with her showing determination to free herself and to free Conrad.  This determination could be shown in part by her loosening her hair.  She is sad and angry that she is a slave and that the person who had rescued her and the other women is to be tortured and executed.  The music and mime for this could come from Gulnare’s dance with Lanquedem in the current first act (dance of the slave) and from dances between Medora and Conrad in the current second act, although that music would have to be adjusted to be sad instead of loving.  Gulnare was an important character in the poem and is an important character in this ballet.  Because of this the dance would be long.  It would be the most dramatic and serious part of an otherwise upbeat ballet.

 

Act 3 starts with a short mostly mime scene and corresponds to the third Canto of the poem.  As the curtain rises a light is shown on Conrad showing him chained to a wall with guards on either side of him.  Most of the stage is in darkness.  Gulnare enters, speaks to the guards and gives them jewelry as a bribe.  The guards then leave.  Now Gulnare alone with Conrad mimes to him that they both could escape.  Conrad hesitates, but finally Gulnare unlocks his chains.  With that more of the stage is lit and the female slaves are seen.  They are at first worried and uncertain, but as Gulnare introduces Conrad and explains that they are to free themselves and join the corsaires they become excited and happy.  At this point an alarm is heard, a gong, bells or a bugle and realizing that guards would soon arrive they flee off the stage.  As this happens a light is shown on a raised platform revealing the Pasha, dead, lying on his bed, with his arm draped down.  To those who know the poem this suggests that Gulnare had stabbed him while he slept.  The curtain comes down and in a short time it rises to reveal a beautiful, natural garden.  On the stage is Medora, sitting sad and despondent as she does not know if Conrad is dead or not.  Also, with her is Ali, Helena and Zobeide.  Soon Conrad enters the stage and seeing him Medora runs to embrace him.  Gulnare and the freed women, all dressed in tutus representing their happiness at being freed also enter and with their hair down. Ali goes to welcome Gulnare and the female corsaires welcome the women.  After this happy scene all exit the stage in both directions as six female corsaires in tutus enter and begin the Lively Garden dance.  Gulnare and Medora and the other women enter the dance as required.  At the end of this dance Gulnare and Ali, now surrounded by all including the male corsaires, dance the part of the dance of the slave from the current first act that was not danced in the re-imagined ballet’s second act.  They are then followed by Medora and Conrad dancing their first dance from the current ballet’s first act.  Following this all rise in an expression of triumph and happiness and the ballet ends.

 

Tom,

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Justification for female corsairs:  Some may feel it is unrealistic for there to be female corsaires and there were no female corsaires in the poem.  The primary justification for including them in this re-imagined ballet is that there were female pirates.  First and foremost, there was the Irish female pirate chieftain Granuaie also known as Grace O’Malley, who lived during the 16th and into the 17th centuries.  Other female pirates are written about here: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/swashbuckling-history-women-pirates-180962874/.

 

Given the history of Greece and the Ottoman Empire during the time that Byron was writing his poem and given his actions during that time, it is possible that he thought of the corsairs as freedom fighters.  At the time that Byron’s wrote his poem Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire, but there was a growing desire among the Greeks for independence.  There was a failed revolt in 1770 and a successful one that started in 1821.  Byron himself contributed to that later successful revolution.  In addition, Conrad is described as a person of principles, as more befits a freedom fighter than a pirate, he describes his flag as being red and not the skull and cross bones on black and while the word Corsair could mean pirate it also is defined as a privateer, a person who plunders on behave of one side against another and who would be seen as a hero for one side.

 

In writing this I wondered how many people had read the poem The Corsair.  I had some difficulty in understanding it when I first read it since I had expected it to be the story of the ballet.  Kindly let me know if you have read it.

 

Tom,

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