Bolshoi Ballet

July 30, 2007

The Bolshoi Ballet

London Coliseum

July 30–August 18, 2007

Reviewed by Margaret Willis    

The Bolshoi Ballet’s new version of Petipa’s Le Corsaire is a swashbuckling extravaganza that assaults the senses and feasts the eyes. While the classical dances were performed impeccably, the London audiences also reveled in the excellent character dancing and acting, and the impressive sets and colorful costumes.

    Artistic director Alexei Ratmansky and ballet master Yuri Burlaka have painstakingly researched the original notation, now housed at Harvard University, and designs for sets and costumes. While the look is old-fashioned—the pirates wear kilt-length skirts over their pantaloons, braided pea jackets, swarthy make-up, and tasseled fezes on top of unkempt long hair—Ratmansky allows his dancers to perform the steps with 21st century gusto and technique, where legs soar high, and multi-pirouettes are the norm. Packed with equal amounts of mime, character, and classical dancing, the company delights in hamming up the story of the feisty, beautiful Medora, who, though she is betrothed to the doddery rich Said Pasha, runs off with her pirate lover to his lair. There’s mutiny, skullduggery, a multitude of improbable situations, and concludes with a sensational shipwreck. The music, accredited to no less than six composers, adds vivid seasoning to the plot.

    Petipa’s 20-minute classical extravaganza, Le Jardin Animee sees the stage fill with garlands, flower baskets, small box hedges and around 50 dazzling white silk old fashioned tutus as dancers vie for space as they execute their finest technique. Where notation is missing, choreography has been created by Ratmansky. In the joyful Grand Pas des Eventailles  (dance of the fans), the dancers show off their lines in open épaulement, steady turns, and strong balances.

    Maria Alexandrova’s headstrong Medora was skillfully crafted, her mime clear and full of humor. Her dancing showed off her wonderful airborne jetés, precise pirouettes, and speedy piqué turns. Her Conrad, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, made a swarthy and passionate pirate in the Johnny Depp mold, confidently setting off in wild, ‘heat-seeking’ streaking jetés and whirling turns. In the famous virtuoso Grand Pas in the pirates’ cave, the duo pulled out all stops, elegantly showing line and style before igniting their fiery pyrotechnics.

    The whole company showed itself on fine form with excellent cameo roles from Natalia Osipova, Ekaterina Krysanova, and Anna Nikulina as the Odalisques. Londoners had their first sighting of the whiz-kid Ivan Vasiliev leaping and turning in the Pas d’Esclaves with Nina Katsova.