Kirov Ballet

'Le Corsaire'

by Art Priromprintr

July 23, 2003 -- Covent Garden, London

I saw the evening performance of "Le Corsaire" on Wednesday, July 23. Unfortunately, there wasn't any real excitement coming from the stage that night, though it may have been my perspective in the auditorium standing at the back of the amphitheatre. From there, one looks down on the proceedings and wonders why anyone should care what is going on at all -- the production doesn't make much of a concerted effort to jump out and get the audience to pay attention. Plus, the whole ballet doesn't make much sense (plotwise) to begin with, so when it appears as though the cast is "going through the motions," it makes for an ordeal. I've read about how ballet in opera houses used to be almost secondary entertainment to the audience's watching of other people in the audience -- I can see how this ballet may have come out of that era.

This sounds harsh -- but I did like some of the ballet. There were isolated moments of brilliance (e.g. Act I's pas d'eclave with Gulnare and the slave trader and the Act II pas de trois), but the company as a whole did not seem to wake up until Act III's Jardin Anime sequence. There, the stage lighting actually gets much brighter, the costuming is colorful, and we get to see the Kirov's famed corps de ballet in action, doing what they do best. And the Jardin Anime dances were done extremely well, and I was in ballet heaven for a few minutes. Overall, the aforementioned pas de deux/pas de trois and the Jardin Anime scenes were truly wonderful. I just wish the rest of the performance was like that.

Sofia Gumerova was a technically clean Medora - which made for an excellent Act II pas de trois, but she and Vladimir Shishov (as Conrad) barely seemed to notice one another beyond choreographed glances.

This version of "Le Corsaire" may simply be too melodramatic. I kept comparing the performance to that of American Ballet Theatre's, which I have seen and enjoyed many, many times. Despite the fact that ABT's version isn't very dramatically sound either, the production chooses to have fun with the ballet. From the opening, the audience is treated to virtually non-stop delights, and the diversion into plot is treated comically and in a spirit of good fun. Some of the ABT production's revisions also work much better: the dance of the Odalisques is performed in Act I instead of in Act III as the Kirov's. In Act I, the dance makes more of an excuse to be there: the girls are being traded in the market. Sitting in Act III, the dance seems to appear out of nowhere; yes they are the pasha's harem, but there is no real reason for them to dance.

As for the Jardin Anime sequence, I like much better that the ABT production turns it into a fantasy/dream sequence.  It seems overblown and silly that in the Kirov production, the harem suddenly gets decked out in bright tutus and begins dancing. ABT's production also re-orchestrates much of the score, presumably to match the spirit of its production. The reorchestrations are, however, superior to the Kirov's orchestrations -- the Kirov production's music is a heavy and uninteresting accompaniment.  But overall, I think the main difference between the ABT and Kirov productions is that ABT's is just more entertaining.

Perhaps I caught the Kirov on an off night, but the mime was boring, overlong and very melodramatic.  ABT has fun with it.  Take whichever version you like, but when it comes to "Le Corsaire," I prefer the fun of ABT's.

Edited by Jeff

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