Le Corsaire – English National Ballet: London Coliseum, 8 January 2020

A coarse hare. That’s so bunny

Surely your character is Pasha its best. Erina Takahashi and Michael Coleman discuss Orientalism in the 21st Century in ENB’s Le Corsaire. Photo by Laurent Liotardo

The plot is ludicrous, the music is so rompty-pompty it’s laughable and there are so many individual variations that it feels like you’re submerged in the quagmire of the Prix de Lausanne, but somehow Anna-Marie Holmes’ production of Le Corsaire for English National Ballet rises above all that and gives you a cracking night out. As long as you can stomach the idea of the 19th century slave and sex-trafficking industries being played for laughs, that is. The idea that the lecherous Pasha (who pays traders to secure captive women to become part of his harem) is at heart a jolly old soul, leaves me feeling queasy. Surely his character can be amended to truly show what a despicable lout he is without losing the essential essence of the ballet.

That aside, it’s the awesome choreography that’s kept Le Corsaire going for over 100 years. It’s a whirlwind of virtuoso solos and pas de deux that requires a lot of different dancers to display their wares. Erina Takahashi was the lead ballerina tonight but although her Medora was assured and correct with some tremendous floating balances, her performance didn’t quite bubble over into extreme excitement. Jeffrey Cirio let rip as Ali, his big moment in the famous pas de trois brought alive by some dazzlingly fast jumping spins. Brooklyn Mack as the contemptible slave trader Lankendem showed a clean pair of heels in a steady performance that lacked fizz, while Erik Woolhouse strained every muscle to give the morally dubious Birbanto real energy.

For me, there were two revelations on the night. Firstly, Shiori Kase,as Medora’s friend Gulnare, was fantastic. Her spins in her first act pas de deux with Mack were astonishingly quick and contrasted perfectly with her long-held attitudes. Secondly, Francesco Gabriele Frola as the night’s hero, Conrad: what a jump! He floated through the air. He’s also an excellent partner and knows how to engage an audience. Excellent performances by the pair of them. Elsewhere, Julia Conway and Precious Adams (who has charisma to burn) shone as Odalisques.

Bob Ringwoood’s sets are an attractive mish-mash of fantasy Arabic, Turkish and Mughal designs and his costumes sparkle like an exploding disco ball. The English National Ballet Philharmonic played the dog’s dinner of a score expertly and surely all the acting royalty watching tonight (including Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart) would have gone home feeling like they’d watched a proper show.

English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire runs at the London Coliseum until 14 January 2020 and tickets can be found on the ENB website

Gerard Davis

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