Reviewed by Alex Wiggins
It was a risk taking our thirteen year old son to watch a ballet for the first time, especially as it was my first time too. The risk paid off as he was able to appreciate the story and thoroughly enjoyed the talents and the splendour of the company on stage.
As would be expected of a story around pirates, the company share the stage almost equally between female and male dancers. Rather than simple mime and acting (though there were a few such guest artists!) the male cast are truly spectacular with athleticism, poise and perfection from the first leap to curtain down! To see the contrast between the awesome power and prowess of these leaping gazelles to the expected elegance and intricate speed of the female principles, is an experience the most novice ballet audience can appreciate and admire.
Act 1 introduces the audience to most of the cast and dancers as the pirate captain Conrad is on a mission to rescue his love, Medora, who has been kidnapped by the slave trader Lankendem. In contrast to a typical romantic ballet, this ballet quickly introduces the audience to theft, murder and violence! As the pirate ship docks and Conrad is convince of Medora’s love, he sets about freeing his love from Lankendem as the slave trader is presenting three of his slave women to the Governor of the citadel – the Pasha. The plot is simple and executed with perfection as the Pasha chooses first the ‘dark haired lady’ Gulnare before being tempted to buy Medora too (her dance could have sold her to the audience!).
As Act 1 closes we see Medora rescued from the Pasha by Conrad’s slave Ali as he kidnaps the slave trader Lankendem at the same time.
The painted drop sets were simple in their intricacy, giving the magic and glamour of a traditional ballet without the space on stage! They, along with the beautifully oriental inspired costumes, brought the story to life and created excitement and intrigue with each back drop.
Act 2 opens in the dark caves of the pirate hideout where Conrad, ravished with love for Medora, promises all his possessions and treasures to her. His second in command, Birbanto, overhears this and plots a mutiny as the treasure is not only Conrad’s to give. As the pirates bring their bounty, the slave girls and the kidnapped Lankendem into the cave, the audience are offered the pirate entertainment as Conrad, Medora and the slave Ali dance for the crew. As the entertainment ends, Medora begs her love to free the other slave girls. Birbanto is appalled as Conrad agrees, a mutiny begins with a violent fight which see Conrad victorious.
Unhappy and rebellious, Birbanto comes up with another plan, giving the unsuspecting Medora a drugged flower to offer her love. As Conrad falls into a drugged sleep Birbanto tries to kidnap Medora but is injured by the feisty vixen who is then kidnapped by the escaping Lankendem. Birbanto is able to pretend he knew nothing of the plot as a heartbroken Conrad wakes from his drugged sleep.
Act three rounds up the story with 5 scenes from the Pasha’s palace to the shipwreck survivors. As in any good love story, more than one man is trying to Medora’s possession or affection. We see the slave Ali fall in love with one of the Pasha’s slave girls, Gulnare, who he takes as the pirates raid the Pasha’s palace to kidnap Medora back. Lankendem has tried to sell Medora to the Pasha who dreams of adding her to his harem in the only fantasy scene of the show, Birbanto is exposed as a liar and traitor and is shot, Conrad escapes with his love while Ali escapes with his!
The climax is brought towards the end with a tempestuous storm which sees the ship sink, leaving two lovers dead and two others embraced in the happy ever after ending!
From a relatively modern inspiration, this ballet is still full of the traditions and the talent of the best performances to be expected from our English National Ballet.
Tickets cost from £13 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
English National Ballet: Le Corsaire is at Milton Keynes Theatre from 20-23 November 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes or call the box office on 0844 8717652.
Milton Keynes Theatre, 500 Marlborough Gate, Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK9 3NZ