The BLOG: Culture

‘Corsaire’ a charming season opener for Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Ivan Liška's Le Corsaire; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet in Ivan Liška’s Le Corsaire; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet returned to the stage last week, brandishing swords and firing guns with glee. The company is currently performing Ivan Liška’s Le Corsaire, a production with an adventurous pirate tale and stunning classical ballet.

This is the North American premiere of Liška’s staging of Corsaire, a reconstruction of Marius Petipa’s original choreography. Originally performed in 1849, the ballet based on Lord Byron’s The Corsair tells the story of a corsair, Conrad, who falls in love with the beautiful foster daughter, Medora, of a rich slave trader, Lankendem. When Lankendem agrees to sell Medora for to the Pasha for an exorbitant price, Conrad and the corsairs rescue her from the arrangement. But Medora and Conrad’s escape is thwarted by the menacing corsair Birbanto.

Liška breathed fresh air into the 19th-century ballet with lovely choreography, lively staging and extremely artistic set design that looked like it came from a wall in the Louvre. Liška and Doug Fullington, who reconstructed Petipa’s choreography, composed breathtaking staging for Le J’ardin Animé in tones of gold and pink, positively adorned in flowers.

As Medora, it was Seo Hye Han’s first performance as a principal dancer, and she quickly proved herself suited to the title. Though delicate and slight, she was assured in her dancing. Though I found no fault in her partnering, it is in Ms. Han’s solos that she shines the most. She danced an especially charming solo in Conrad’s vest, mocking his pirate ways. I anticipate that Ms. Han’s presence will grow even more commanding as she progresses.

As Conrad, Principal Dancer Lasha Khozashvili brought a natural rough and tumble masculinity to his role as the corsair leader, dancing with abandon and a free spirit. It was another strong performances of leaps, lifts and turns for the principal.

The biggest treat of the ballet is the pas de trois between Conrad, Medora and Ali, its coda the best section of dancing in the whole ballet. It was as if each dancer aimed to impress by outdoing the last—Mr. Khozashvili’s pirouettes were vigorous and steady; Ms. Han’s fouettes were a success and Ali never seemed to touch the ground.

Ali seemed the crowd favorite at both performances that I attended, danced by two soloists whom I admire greatly. On opening night, Irlan Silva and Federico Fresi the following night both drew gasps of awe from the audience with their masterful executions of Ali’s brilliant choreography. Mr. Silva’s infectious energy and Mr. Fresi’s athleticism were perfect for the role. Fresi was clearly in his element when he ended his series of barrel turns with a 540 jump, and perfectly nailing intricate leaps with great height and pristine landings. 

Irlan Silva, Lasha Khozashvili, and Seo Hye Han in Ivan Liška's Le Corsaire; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Irlan Silva, Lasha Khozashvili, and Seo Hye Han in Ivan Liška’s Le Corsaire; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Soloist Ji Young Chae stood out on opening night in the Pas des Odalisque. She performed her challenging variation with ease and lightness. The quick brisés were precise and polished. The following night, I was very pleased with Corps de Ballet Dancer Lauren Herfindahl’s capability in the same variation.

As Birbanto, Principal Eris Nezha gave such a compelling and menacing performance that the crowd cheered as his demise. A host of young Boston Ballet students impressed in their timing and technique in Le Jardin Animé. Ms. Han and Lia Cirio as the glamorous slave Gulnara were visions of beauty leading the scene. Ms. Cirio’s distinguished performance as Gulnara reminded us how versatile a dancer she is.

The key to this ballet is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s nothing wrong with having fun in ballet. With lively oompah-pah music, the adventurous story calls for lightheartedness. Liška accomplished this by balancing serious classical dancing with comical pantomiming, and the dancers embellished their actions with almost satirical drama. Conrad, his pirates, Said Pasha and his eunuchs especially played up the humor.

It was, perhaps, risky for Boston Ballet to open its season with a lighthearted ballet, especially after opening last season with John Neumeier’s edgy and bold Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler. The two ballets set extremely different tones for the respective seasons, and in one sense, a company striving to establish itself as a major figure in the ballet world was wise to open last year with Mahler.

That being said, Boston Ballet’s 2016-17 season is packed with avant garde pieces like Mahler that put it on the map—we will see plenty of edgy, contemporary ballet between Jorma Elo, William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián. To kick this season off, Liška’s Corsaire smartly invites Boston audiences back into the theater with a warm welcome.

Boston Ballet will perform Le Corsaire at the Boston Opera House through Nov. 6. Tickets are available on their webpage.