It is a romp. Illogical, rampageously silly, laid – like some abandoned tot – at Lord Byron’s door, Le Corsaire boasts a 19th-century history that saw it taken within two years from Paris in 1856 to St Petersburg. There it gained massive accretions of step and score and its ultimate identity as a venerable example of the ballet à grand spectacle with which Marius Petipa kept a sophisticated Petersburg audience amused. And, in this jolly, sped-up version – narrative, such as it hysterically is, whistles past as seen from a bullet train – it arrived in English National Ballet’s repertory in November. And, unlike the Royal Ballet’s recent debilitated account of Don Quixote, a work of similar provenance and one ruined by misunderstanding, this staging is a by-no-means-unworthy account of its dashing original.
Anna-Marie Holmes, who staged it, trusts her old text, and her editing has guaranteed a momentum that ENB’s eager dancers both respect and enhance. And, splendid coup, the ballet has gained tremendous sets and costumes from Bob Ringwood which savour the style and intentions of 19th-century stage design and appreciate the scenic possibilities of the narrative. His first-act decor and front-cloth brilliantly evoke Adrianople, where the ballet is set, as imagined by Russian painters of the mid-19th century. Here is the world of Aivazovsky’s luminous canvases.
As I noted at its October premiere, the production is a roaring, madcap success, and Thursday’s audience rejoiced in Alina Cojocaru’s delicious view of the heroine, Medora, and in Shiori Kase’s sweetly danced account of Gulnare, darling of the harem. (Please don’t ask!) Vadim Muntagirov, his hair too long and lightly mustachioed (Napoleon III fashion), is the hero Conrad, and an unfailing delight in big jumps and sincerity, while Yonah Acosta offers a vividly drawn and villainous Birbanto.
ENB’s dancers work with tireless verve, huge enthusiasm. There is an unpleasant outbreak of child performers in the slightly fudged Jardin animé – that venerable and grand classic ensemble, here looking rather harried – but the shipwreck (no ballet should be without one) is best fun and gloriously done by Ringwood and the cast.