American Ballet Theatre ended its Le Corsaire run Saturday evening with a rousing performance, although lacking the electricity of the Tuesday opening. Part of the reason was the absence of Daniil Simkin from the Ali role due to injury. Daniil’s Ali was one of the best I have seen with numerous innovations such as triple saute de basque and a turn in a backbend position after five pirouettes to finish his first solo. Corps member Joo Won Ahn did an admirable job stepping in for Daniil. Joo’s strength is his jumps, although his double assemblé manége (circle) had several rocky landings. His turns were generally controlled, although not his strong suit. After a solid performance last year as Solor in La Bayadére, I would expect him to be promoted to Soloist soon.
Christine Shevchenko was gorgeous as Medora, projecting throughout the Met Opera House with a beaming smile. Christine is a sturdy turner, which served her well in her difficult turn segments. Guest Artist Brooklyn Mack put up another strong performance as Conrad, with commanding leaps and extensions (see my thoughts on his dancing in my previous review).
At only age 20, Aran Bell is getting lead roles and coming through with solid performances. His Lankendem solos were powerful with reliable technique, including assembles to a soft and deep plié, a triple saute de basque, and jeté cloche to the side in Act I. His only weakness was his tour de reins (barrel turns) which were tepid with a feeble trailing leg.
Cassandra Trenary displayed excellent phrasing in her Gulnare solos. Gabe Stone Shayer delivered an energetic Birbanto portrayal with several smooth turn segments.
The final scenes in which Conrad and crew sail off for freedom were botched, marred by several technical difficulties. The mast of the ship did not break in half; the vessel caught the screen that was rising in front of the ship, resulting in two large gouges. In the ending scene, Medora and Conrad are supposed to cling to rocks as they escaped the ship. However, the rocks were nowhere to be found as Christina and Brooklyn improvised. Thankfully, this is the last performance of Le Corsaire this season as the screen needs to be repaired/replaced.
Le Corsaire Trigger Warning
Le Corsaire is a silly, campy work loosely based on Lord Byron’s 1814 poem. Modern productions are derived from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa’s 1860s Bolshoi production. The plot centers around a pirate Conrad who, after sailing to Turkey, falls in love with a slave, Medora who is sold to a pasha who declares that she will be his number one wife. Conrad and Medora have different plans as he rescues her. The plot is thin, silly, and difficult to take seriously.
In this season’s presentation, several segments in the 1997 Anna-Marie Holmes production were changed, such as the entrance of the slave girls tied together in rope and a pasha prayer scene. The program announced the changes and gave a Trigger Warning in its history of the Petipa work, stating the obvious: the work centers around slavery, piracy, and the subjugation of women. To prepare and warn audience members, it continues that the work is situated in a time and place where slavery and polygamy were driving forces of the economy and social landscape.
The program’s cautionary note is insulting as it assumes that audience members cannot separate the silly from the serious. Le Corsaire is popular not because it provides a cogent historical perspective on the Middle Eastern slave trade and piracy, but because it serves as a vehicle for bravura dancing. The Soviet-era ballet Flames of Paris is a similar foolish work that sheds no historical light on the French Revolution. Both fail at history, but are popular because they showcase technical and athletic aspects of classical ballet.
What is next, warnings for comedies such as Hogan’s Heros (American POWs in a World War II German prison camp), The Three Stooges and 1960s children’s cartoons (gratuitous violence), and Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I (torture)?
Trigger warnings at the ballet… who would have thought?? Sadly, this is the world we live in now. I think the idea that Le Corsaire is somehow a racist ballet started maybe three or four years ago. At least this is when I first started hearing about this, in interviews with dancers themselves.
Ironically, many of the people that these trigger warnings are aimed at probably never even go to the ballet! I believe we’re now going down a very slippery slope. And I, too, wonder what will be next.