Bolshoi's Corsaire, live in HD

Watching the Bolshoi's Le Corsaire is sort of being like treated to a four-hour extravaganza of the sweetest, thickest pastries. It's delicious and fun at first, but by the fourth hour, you feel sick.

I've never been able to make sense of the plot of Le Corsaire, and I have seen this ballet a surprising amount of times both live and on video. Something about pirates and slave girls and a pasha and his harem. The score is stitched together from six composers, and various choreographers. The current Bolshoi production is one of those reconstructions where some attempt has been made to restore long-lost music, mime, and old-fashioned Petipa-era costumes. The ballet certainly has a plethora of opportunities for dancers at every level of the company, and it's a lot of fun, but as I said, this production drags on for way too long and my interest totally sagged by Act III. I saw this production live when the Bolshoi toured to Washington D.C. a few years ago, and had the same reaction.

The Bolshoi's HD transmissions consistently show off the company's top-down strength. There is excellent dancing from the last line of the corps de ballet to every single soloist variation to the big pas de deux between the leads. The character dancers are great, the mime actors are great, the company just looks great as a whole, and that is always a joy to watch. This was never more apparent than in the extended Jardin d'Anime scene, when the stage flooded with a women and children, all of them carrying flowers and dancing dreamily. The stage was so crowded, but the corps formations never slackened, the children were adorable, and both Svetlana Lunkina (Medora) and Nina Kaptsova (Gulnare) danced the leads in the scene with a charming delicacy. The Jardin d'Anime scene also has the best music of the entire ballet, a contribution by Leo Delibes. It's really the highlight of the ballet.

That being said, I thought the ballet perhaps is not the best candidate for a "reconstruction," since it was always a pastiche of different dances by different choreographers set to different music, so it plays more as a very long spectacle than an actual ballet in the sense that we now define ballet. One pas de deux follows another, one costume change follows another, one huge tableau follows another, and finally there's an old-fashioned ship-wreck that seems to come out of nowhere to bring the four hour extravaganza to a close. In Act One Medora, a slave girl, for instance, goes through three costume changes for no apparent reason, and two of those costume changes are in a pirate's cave. Why would a pirate's cave have two different fancy tutus perfectly fitted for a slave girl? The overall effect is rather silly.

The principal roles were danced by Svetlana Lunkina (Medora), Ruslan Svortsov (Conrad), and Nina Kaptsova (Gulnare). The best dancing by far was by Kaptsova, who simply sparkled as the spunky harem girl. She's one of those dancers who both in looks and movement is eternally young -- her passe/releves have the energy of a dancer fresh out of school, her jumps have a delightful buoyancy, her smile is radiant and lights up the stage, and whenever she was dancing the whole performance had an extra energy. She was recently promoted to principal dancer after the high-profile defection of Natalia Osipova, and in my opinion it's richly deserved.

I found this youtube video of her variation:

Svetlana Lunkina as Medora was considerably more muted. There's nothing wrong with her per se as a dancer, she's just not very exciting. I had the same complaints about her Giselle. Granted Medora is not a very deep role, but that's why it needs larger-than-life ballerinas to fill in the vacuum. Lunkina has lovely lines, a nice lyrical style, but is too reserved both in her dancing and personality to really do justice to this role. Ruslan Skvortsov as Conrad really represented the best of the Bolshoi tradition in men -- strong, muscular, able to lift the women like paper, yet showing an almost feline grace in the way he leaped across the stage. Despite his beefy build, he had a great classical line, and there was never anything clunky about his dancing. The pas de deux between Conrad and Medora (in the Kirov and ABT versions it is a pas de trois, but here it is just the two of them dancing) contained some lovely dancing from her, but it was Skvorstov's effortless elevation and strength that made the more lasting impression.

The pas d'esclave was in this production danced by two random dancers who appear onstage for no apparent reason in Act One, dance, and are whisked offstage, never to be seen again. The dancers were Anastasia Stashkevitch and Vyacheslav Lopatin, both of whom were excellent. Also very fine were the three odalisques (Olga Kishnyova, Anna Nikulina and Anna Tikhomirova), all of whom looked like Medoras/Gulnares in the making. I wonder if this is what keeps companies like the Bolshoi so strong -- the constant threat of up-and-coming dancers keeps the whole company competitive. I have noticed the same thing recently about the NYCB -- the bumper crop of younger stars is correlated with an improvement in the dancing of many of the vets.

Overall this production was good to see once, but it didn't really hold my interest and I think I've had my fix of Corsaire's for a few years.


  1. You may not believe it, but I saw most of this on stage - all the Bolshoi brought to the Kennedy Center a few years ago - twice in one day and had a very good time with it. I just don't bother with the silly plot-logic of things like this and Raymonda and look for the dance-logic, how it grows out of the music at each moment, and the architectural show-logic of the acts - the ebb and flow of ensembles, pas de deux, solos and so on. Of course the quality of the dancing - its freshness and brilliance - and the individuality and spirit of the dancers matters too. (Just like watching Mr. B.) So I'm keen to see the huge cut before the shipwreck filled - the one great flaw in DC - even in a video. Meanwhile, thanks for the preview!

  2. I am off to the Bolshoi Ballet's Le Corsaire tomorrow night! It was great to read this post. :) Joining your site. Thank you, Flora.


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