Turbans and tutus: the Bolshoi brings Le Corsaire to Australia

Le Corsaire, as danced by the Bolshoi Ballet, is like a croquembouche.

The caramel-wrapped cone of pastry balls sprinkled sugar almonds is delectable, alluring, but just when you think you have had enough, another pastry slivers into view.

The pastry delights in Corsaire come in the form of solos, pas de deux, pas de trois, pas de whatever and the grand spectacle of the white tutu-d female ensemble in Act II’s Le Jardin anime.

Over the course of 3.5 hours – and three acts – Le Corsaire takes the audience from a Turkish bazaar where slaves are traded, to a pirates’ den, then to a Pasha’s palace and the Pasha’s private rooms and finally to a ship that’s wrecked in a spectacular storm.

This incongruous melange of turbans and tutus was first presented in Paris in 1856, a time when the faraway places of the Ottoman Empire and India were seen as fabulous fantasylands where erotic and exotic tales could unfold.

Harems? Yes, please. Bare midriffs? More, please. Virile men whisking women away from silly old potentates? Of course.

In 2007, Alexei Ratmansky, then artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, created a new production of Corsaire, in collaboration with Yuri Burlaka, because, he said, the company needed a new full-length ballet from the 19th century repertoire.

Ratmansky’s ballet is based on the 1899 revival of the ballet by Marius Petipa, the last of four revivals of the ballet Petipa staged in St Petersburg.

This production was, and is, a showcase for so many dancers from the company, from principals, to soloists, to the corps, who not only dance the traditional classical ballet set pieces but also in in the red blooded style of national character dancing, boots and all.

On June 5, the final night of Le Corsaire’s season in Brisbane Queensland, Maria Alexandrova, as Medora, propelled the entire evening.

Her energy combined with her charm reached a sweet apogee when, dressed as La Petite Corsaire and leaping around the circumference of the pirates’ den, she called out to the audience: “Queensland, I love you!” instead of the original “Abortage!” – the pirates’ shout as they board a ship.

Alexandrova combines an open and generous manner – her eyes reach to the far corners of the theatre – with a technical brilliance that enables her to dance in almost every scene of the ballet to a very exacting standard. Her control is astonishing, especially evident in her turns (among them pose pirouettes en manèges) and sustained retires).

Her partner, as Conrad, was Vladislav Lantratov, promoted to the rank of a leading soloist of the Bolshoi last December.

With luck, the slender Lantratov, who joined the Bolshoi about six years ago, will become a principal of the company as he has the physique, the grace, strength and technique to do so.

Lantratov also danced the role on opening night, 30 May, but shared the role over the season with principals Mikhail Lobukhin and Ruslan Skvortsov.

As Gulnare, the friend of Medora who rescues her from the clutches of Seyd-Pasha (Alexei Loparevich), the principal dancer, the petite Nina Kaptsova was exquisite, fast, charming in her manner and able to convincingly act out the role of ballet that’s almost impossible to completely understand unless you have read the convoluted synopsis.

The virtuosity of the soloists was clear from their opening scene when Anna Tikhomirova and Andrei Bolotin whizzed through the Pas d’esclaves that includes, for him, cabrioles landing in a plie and double tours with tucked legs.

(In a cabriole the legs beat together and a double tour means the dancer leaps vertically into the air and turns twice.)

The highlights of the production were of course the famous pas de deux in the pirates’ den, the grouping of women (as an animated garden of white and pink roses) and the cinematic ending, in which the pirates’ ship hits a rock and all are lost except for Conrad and Medora.

The effect of a rolling ship in a tempestuous sea is achieved by projections from the back and front, and with the use of silk cloth that ripples like the waves.

The ship appears to tear in half when a second cloth rolls down over the front cloth of the ship’s sails. The overall effect makes for a stunning finale.

Le Corsaire’s set was designed by Boris Kaminsky. The sets for the bazaar, den and palace, appear from a distance to be built but they are actually cloth onto which the illustrated scenes are dyed to give a vivid 3D appearance.

The costumes, in russet, scarlet, gold, white, turquoise and cornflower blue are the work of designer Yelena Zaytseva, who based her designs on 1899 sketches by Yevgeny Ponomarov.

The Bolshoi brought its own conductor, Pavel Sorikin, for the tour and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra excelled with one of the best performances by an orchestra for a ballet that I have ever witnessed in Australia.

The tour continues today, 7 June, with The Bright Stream.