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'Le Corsaire' Sails to Success:

Boston Ballet Le Corsaire (The Pirate) at the Wang Center through April 13

By Christiana Briggs

With a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, the Boston Ballet is currently performing the American premiere of the Russian classic, "The Pirate" (Le Corsaire). This brilliant and colorful production was aided by a $100,000 grant from The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, which is dedicated to maintaining public awareness of Nureyev's artistic legacy. The tale of Le Corsaire is based on an 1814 Byron poem and was revived in 1868 by the great ballet choreographer and master Marius Petipa. The current Boston Ballet production is based on choreography by Konstantin Sergeyev and was staged by Anna-Marie Holmes (the soon-to-be Artistic Director of Boston Ballet) and Natalia Dudinskaya and Vadim Desnitsky of the Kirov Ballet. The 85-year-old Dudinskaya, a former Kirov ballerina, has become a familiar face around the Boston Ballet over the past few years, coaching the company in its production of Swan Lake, Giselle and Sleeping Beauty.

Le Corsaire is a fun, comic, swashbuckling tale, a ballet version of an old Errol Flynn movie with plenty of swordfights, abductions, and veiled, scantily clad women. Set on the coast of the Ionian Sea, while Greece was under Turkish occupation, it is the story of a young pirate, Conrad (Robert Wallace), who falls in love with a Greek slave, Medora (Natasha Akhmarova), in a Turkish bazaar. When a pasha arrives looking for women to add to his harem, Medora is stolen away from him by Conrad and his band.

In the pirates' lair, Medora dances for the pirates and expresses her love for Conrad, who agrees, for her sake, to free the other slave girls. But this decision angers his close friend Birbanto (Lazlo Berdo), who concocts a plot whereby Conrad is drugged in his sleep and Birbanto attempts to murder him. Medora fights with Birbanto and slashes his arm before the pirates carry her off to the pasha. Conrad, awaking to find Medora gone, is consoled by a suddenly "loyal" Birbanto.

Back in the pasha's place and gardens, Medora leads the harem girls in a dance. Conrad and the pirates appear disguised as pilgrims and launch a surprise attack on the pasha and his wives. Reunited with Medora, Conrad kills Birbanto upon learning of his treachery. Back on the high seas, a storm erupts, and amidst thunder and lightning the ship sinks. In the final scene, moonlight reveals Conrad and Medora climbing safely onto a rock, signifying the triumph of their love.

Throughout the performance, the male leads were consistently excellent. Robert Wallace danced the role of the fearless and compassionate Conrad superbly. The strength of his technique was evident during his many solos, which were filled with extremely high, streamlined jumps and great athleticism. Birbanto was portrayed by Lazlo Berdo, who has greatly refined and improved his technique and overall dancing over the past few years. Berdo's character almost stole the show with his silly, frolicking antics, expressive face and great acting. Soloist Yuri Yanowksi took the role of the slave, Ali, who dances with Medora in the pirates' lair. Yanowski performed this short but technically demanding role brilliantly. His turns, tours, and jumps were perfectly executed and captivated the audience for the ten minutes that he was onstage. His is a face to look for in the future.

On the acting side, Seyd, the pasha, was played by Boston Ballet resident choreographer, Daniel Pelzig. In the past two seasons he has created several new ballets for the company, and his ability to please the audience now includes this performance in which he himself is actually onstage. As the round, jovial, bouncy pasha, Pelzig's thrilled expression upon seeing the beautiful slave girls and his silly hopping about with a staff caused more than a few giggles in the audience.

While this is a ballet that caters more to male roles then female roles, there were several exceptions. The role of Medora was danced by the beautiful Natasha Akhmarova who unfortunately will be retiring from the company at the end of the season. Her performance as Medora was by turns sweetly tender and cockily cute, and her fluidity and lithe jumps were flawless throughout the evening. Pollyanna Ribero, as Medora's friend Culnare, displayed her usual solid strength. In the pas d'Esclave (slave dance), the female role was performed by Jennifer Gelfand. The highlight of her variation was, as always, her amazing pirouettes and fouettes. She amazed the audience with her ability to do four and five rotations in the midst of her fouette turns, a feat that is seldom seen onstage.

Le Corsaire also provided and opportunity for young dancers in the Boston Ballet school to perform. In the palace garden scene, there were very young girls performing en pointe who had been well rehearsed. In addition there were dancers from the top levels of the school who also fit in very well with the rest of the corps de ballet. This scene was one of the prettiest in the ballet, with the coloring of the costumes representing pink, peach, and yellow flower petals swirling across the stage. The girls carried garlands over their heads (a scene strikingly similar to one in Sleeping Beauty, a ballet Marius Petipa created 22 years after Le Corsaire).

The costumes and sets for Le Corsaire were stunning. The bazaar was brightly decorated, with a backdrop of towering mosques. The pale cream buildings matched the pomp and brilliance of the harem women's and merchants' attire. The pirates' lair was set in a misty blue lagoon: one almost expected to see a little mermaid appear out of the ocean. The scenes with the life-size ship moving across the stage were fun to watch although the men who pushed it across had the cameo appearance with their shoes peeking out from beneath.

Combined with a beautiful score by Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo and Prince Oldenbourg, the sets, costumes, dancing and acting created a very enjoyable evening of ballet.

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