Le Corsaire, American Ballet Theatre, New York – review

According to the programme, this 1998 edition of the 19th-century pirate ballet is “after” Petipa, of Swan Lake fame, and his loyal 20th-century conserver Konstantin Sergeyev. A long way after, from the looks of it.

Stager Anna-Marie Holmes, also guilty of American Ballet Theatre’s Raymonda, choreographs not by the yard but by the mile, with nary a step to delight or surprise and little to characterise the players. Not that character counts for much here. The plot, in which pirates kidnap and counter-kidnap lady slaves, pops up so rarely that it amounts to an intrusion.

Solos dominate among the numbers, with bravura such a constant that even split leaps alternating with barrel turns grow dull. As for the occasional group section, Holmes suffers from the choreographic equivalent of the President Ford problem: she cannot do steps and formations at the same time. Even that paragon of Petipa design “Le Jardin animé” proceeds without poetry: no rings ’round the roses, no bouquets of ballerinas. The score, product of too many pens, largely consists of waltzes. It’s like being tumble-dried for two hours. Nevertheless, the Holmes production has the honour of being the first Corsaire to enter a UK company, English National Ballet this autumn.

Perhaps to distract us from the threadbare choreography, ABT has decked it out in new duds. The most compelling of Christian Prego’s backdrops verge towards abstraction in lovely Monet water-lily shades. Anibal Lapiz’s costumes, however, prove as much a hodgepodge as Holmes’s character dances – the pirates in opaque black, red and white while the odalisques glitter like Little Miss Sunshine.

On opening night, Natalia Osipova headed a cast that included stalwart Ivan Vasiliev as Conrad the noble pirate, Daniil Simkin as an elegant if bare-chested slave, a dashing Herman Cornejo (despite disco king getup), musically voluptuous Isabella Boylston and a snappy Craig Salstein as villain. So I should stop with the complaining.

Osipova, soon to join the Royal Ballet (somehow without leaving ABT), does not jump so much as sail – farther, higher and more airily than any ballerina I have seen. And she spins without a hitch, accelerating as she goes. She is not a warm presence but, like a bird, dazzlingly bright and quick.

Until Saturday, www.abt.org

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