New Look at an Old Ballet

This Bolshoi Theatre production is intended for those who still seek for miracles in theatre. If you are moved to applaud the flooded with sunlight bazaar square which comes to view as the curtains are pulled back, if the piles of stage-prop pears and peaches delight your eye and make your mouth water, if you wish to penetrate to the gist of the touchingly naive pantomime via which these intriguing — dressed in attires that are out of this world — pasha-eunuchs-slave-girls communicate, if the magicof a shipwreck on stage excites you more than the real thing in the film version of the Titanic, then have no doubt, you are a potential fan of this Le Corsaire.

And if, in addition, you are as passionate about ballet as was Petipa, who embellished the old Paris original with marvelous choreographic tableaux and numbers of his own and if you love it as much as do the creators of the Bolshoi current version of Le Corsaire — Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka who have attempted to revive — here the creations of their famous predecessor — there — simply his signature, you will become a devotee of this ballet and attend performances of it just as regularly as you do those of La Bayadere or Swan Lake.

This is real “grand ballet” where there is enough dance for virtually the whole company at once, while the prima-ballerina proves her right to this title almost without a break. And although this Le Corsaire is far removed from its literary source (Byron’s poem of the same name), its libretto is quite capable of satisfying society’s love of the pirate-romantic genre.

A great deal of work was involved in launching this Le Corsaire. The creators of the ballet studied archive material in Moscow’s Bakhrushin Museum and in the St. Petersburg State Theatre Library; with the assistance of the Paris Opera, the original score was retrieved from La Bibliotheque national de France; the old costumes and sets were reproduced, while, having deciphered the original dance notation in the Harvard Theatre collection, Ratmansky and Burlaka added dances of their own, their aim being in no way to sin against the spirit of that age when the last of Petipa’s Corsaires loved, drowned and finally ended up safe and sound — the 1899 revival. Just over one hundred years later — might be a suitable title for this hazardous and one hundred percent serious romance between the Bolshoi Theatre and grand ballet.

“Yes, it is a long evening, but you have to stay because of the verve and grace of the dances and, just as important, for the final shipwreck, a triumph of stagecraft, dramatic taradiddle and howling gales. My companion on Monday believes that all ballets are improved by including a shipwreck. Just think how this would enliven some of our local po-faced stagings” (Clement Crisp, Financial Times, 3.08.2010, 5 ’stars’ to the performance).