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Le Corsaire at English National Ballet

Posted on March 26, 2013


corsaireyonahlizavollEnglish National Ballet will be the first UK company to present a full-length production of Le Corsaire, opening on tour in October 2013. The production, by Anna-Marie Holmes, was originally created for Boston Ballet in 1997, and will be revised for English National Ballet.


Le Corsaire is based on a poem by Lord Byron, an exotic fantasy that was a bestseller of its day, selling 10,000 copies on its first day of publication in 1814. The ballet was was created by Joseph Mazilier for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1856. In 1899, Marius Petipa restaged and completely rechoreographed Le Corsaire for the Maryinsky Ballet in St Petersburg. Later productions are derived from Petipa; Holmes’ staging is after Petipa and Konstantin Sergeyev.


The ballet tells the story of Conrad, a dashing pirate, and his love for Medora. It’s a swashbuckling tale of shipwrecks, harems, kidnappings and disguises. Other leading roles include the slave girl Gulnare, Conrad’s slave Ali, his friend Birbanto and the slave dealer Lankedem.


Holmes has already restaged her Boston Ballet production for other companies, including American Ballet Theatre. The English National Ballet version will have designs by Bob Ringwood, best known as the designer of films such as Tim Burton’s Batman, Alien 3 and Troy.


Tamara Rojo, English National Ballet’s director, said that Le Corsaire is “a true epic story that offers drama, an exotic landscape and the best pyrotechnics of the classic technique. It’s a men’s ballet, with heroic and passionate characters… This is a unique and unmissable opportunity, as it has never before been performed by a British company.


“We are working with Anna-Marie Holmes who created this version more than a decade ago and she is willing to change it to make it specific for us. In reinventing Le Corsaire, we have the chance to go through the whole narrative and look at it with fresh eyes, making it even better and personal to the company.


“I am excited that this is a ballet with four male principal roles. Unlike many of the classics, it will give great opportunities to the men in the company to show off their skills and athleticism. We are also reorchestrating the work, because there have been many additions over the years. I want the music to sound more romantic and cleaner, as it would have originally. And I am thrilled that Bob Ringwood, the amazing designer of Batman, has agreed to design the sets and costumes.”


Ringwood said: “Designing Le Corsaire, I thought it would be interesting to bring out the romantic and historic elements of the original ballet. I hoped to capture the flavour of the Romantic period in which it was first staged. The sets and costumes are based on original paintings, prints and engravings of the mid-19th century to capture and infuse the essence of the period.


“I felt it was important to bring out the romantic, sensual and erotic elements of the piece that have been so neglected in recent productions. The sensuality of the women and bravado and swagger of the men, for us all to enjoy those heavily-scented and perfumed Arabian Nights that so captivated Orientalist painters and writers of the second half of the 19th century.”


The new production will open in Milton Keynes on October 17, and will tour to Southampton, Oxford, Bristol, London and Manchester. Dates have been confirmed for the London Coliseum, where Le Corsaire will run from January 9 to 19, 2014. See for more information.


Picture: English National Ballet’s Yonah Acosta in Le Corsaire pas de deux at the Youth America Grand Prix gala. Photograph: Liza Voll.

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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