Le Corsaire, Milton Keynes Theatre, UK – review

There is a not un-intriguing comparison to be made between the two old Russian ballets that have lately been revived in the UK: the Royal Ballet’s third attempt at Don Quixote and English National Ballet’s new staging of Le Corsaire, receiving its first showings in Milton Keynes on Thursday. The Bolshoi and Mariinsky troupes have preserved these bold relics of tsarist dance spectacle inversions which reflect the passage of the years but honour any embellishments those years have brought, showing these dear ghosts with affectionate understanding. The Royal Don Quixote is a tremulous simulacrum of a jolly old masterpiece of kitsch and castanets, and is a waste of time and money. ENB’s Corsaire, despite severe prunings dictated by the need to tour and the forces available, is a roaring success.

It has been edited to within an inch of its life by Anna-Marie Holmes, and the action can need the eye of faith to comprehend what drives the story onward. But she has instilled into ENB’s artists a sense of the full-blooded, fully danced manner which will sustain this cock-eyed drama, and she has the benefit of superb design by Bob Ringwood, experienced both in opera houses and the cinema, who has provided sets and costumes that evoke the manner of tsarist Russian stage decoration, are elegant, witty, pretty as can be, and will win an audience’s heart from curtain rise. The score sounds as it should, and ENB’s artists roar through the dances – and those thin threads of narrative that just about hold the piece together – with no sense of being tourists. They know who they are, and where they are.

Thursday’s cast was led by Alina Cojocaru in sunniest form as the heroine Medora, and adorable, with Erina Takahashi no less delightful as her chum, Gulnare. Vadim Muntagirov raced ardently over the stage as Conrad, Junor Souza was splendid as his sidekick Ali, and Dmitri Gruzdyev was properly devious as Lankedem. I missed the full classic effulgence of the hallowed rose-garden vision scene, but in everything else this Corsaire did not put a piratical foot wrong. And the shipwreck is admirably realised and best fun.

Touring until February, ballet.org.uk

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