Le Cosaire, a dance step back in time

From 2 December 2017 the little known (apart from the pas de deux) ballet, Le Corsaire, will be shown as one of the Bolshoi movie ballets.

Bolshoi Le Corsaire Ekaterina Krysanova and Igor Tsvirko Photo by Damir Yusupov

Bolshoi Le Corsaire Ekaterina Krysanova and Igor Tsvirko Photo by Damir Yusupov

Le Corsaire is rarely staged outside Russia despite its English roots as a poem by Lord Byron dating back to 1814, and possibly telling out the tale of real life pirate, Jean Lafitte.  (The public does enjoy tales of bad guys.)

The ballet was originally choreographed by Joseph Mazilier to the music of Adolphe Adam for the Theatre Imperial de l’Opera in Paris in 1856. Subsequently it was reworked by Marius Petipa over the years, most famously for the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre starring Pierina Legnani Prima ballerina assoluta of the St Petersburg Imperial Theatres at Medora and another Prima ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya as Gulnare, and Pavel Gerdt, Premier danseur of the Imperial Theatre as Conrad.  It must have been some performance.  This movie version was reworked by choreographer Alexei Ratmansky and dance scholar Yuri Burlaka to capture as much of the original 1899 production as possible

Cinema Nouveaus in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria are but three of the 1600 cinemas world-wide where the Bolshoi Ballet movies are screened.

The action starts with a pirate ship crashing onto a beach in a ferocious storm, leaving the pirate captain, Conrad, washed up on shore where a beautiful young slave girl, Medora, finds him.  They fall in love and he rescues her from the slave traders just before she is sold in a Turkish Bazaar.  The story goes on from there in a tangled web of intrigue and romance.

As usual the lovely Katya Novikova gives the background introductions in English, French and Russian.  I love the commentary which explains why this old and politically incorrect story is still so entertaining in the 21st century.  (Well, just one of the reasons is 100 fabulous dancers who form brigades of pirates, gypsies and slaves, each with their own dancers – it is a visual spectacle).

So, this is something quite, quite different for South African balletomaines.  Watch for this productions’ take on the more famous pas de deux between Medora and Conrad’s devoted slave, Ali (a hint here is that the slave doesn’t get the girl for this iconic dance, his master does). I found it all quite wonderful.

The historical recreation of the work is outstanding.  Authentic constucted sets are gorgeous, and the more than 500 costumes and their creation is outstanding (check out the beautiful moulded tutus for the garden scene).  My ballet teacher friend pointed out one of the steps and told me that it was a very old-fashioned step, very rarely used anymore.  She mailed me the details – the step is a gargouillade, from the French for dabbling or paddling, ie a dabbling movement.  We also speculated that the rather odd curtsy hand movements might be an historic thing, so if anyone can enlighten us on that, please do.

The Le Gardin Anime, (the lively garden) is a famous scene from the ballet (to music by Leo Delibes), and it had 86 dancers on stage and while it is always a joy to watch the Bolshoi company dance, this was in a league of its own.  The precise execution of the corps de ballet is nothing short of incredible, with even the children being rehearsed into near perfection.  The stylised mime is clear and accessible even to non-ballet trained people and the characterisations are as good as the dancing.

The entire production is marvellous.


Le Corsaire is a delight to start the year end season. Le Corsaire can be seen at Cinema Nouveaus throughout the country from 2 December 2017. Later The Nutcracker will also play at the cinema.


About moirads

Clergy person, theatre and music lover, avid reader, foodie. Basically, I write about what I do, where I go and things I love (or hate).
This entry was posted in Ballet, Dance, Movies, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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