English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire is not to be missed when it comes to Oxford next week:  the company is dancing on dazzling form.

The work itself raises challenging questions about nineteenth century revivals and changing ethical perspectives.  People trafficking and piracy are at the heart of the story, and as Conrad and Medora escape, their companions drown in a storm at sea, in a way terribly reminiscent of recent events off Lampedusa.  The women are chattels to be bartered, pirates are romanticized and the Pasha is a stereotypical figure of fun.  The production doesn’t so much negotiate this minefield as skim the surface without pausing for long enough to make the audience uneasy, which is perhaps surprising, given the dark tone of the pre-production publicity photographs.

The production is carefully researched, the score meticulously constructed from the work of nine composers, and the designs beautiful evocations of nineteenth century orientalism, but this did not feel like a nineteenth century ballet.  There were exquisite moments, such as Shiori Kase’s Odalisque solo, her ports de bras catching the mood of the era.   Junor Souza’s performance as Ali was a revelation to me (I saw him first in the 2012 Emerging Dancer Competition), and his sense of the en dedans gesture was reminiscent of photographs of Nijinsky.   Alina Cojocaru’s Medora was light, swift and perfectly centred, and she and Vadim Muntagirov (Conrad) gave thoroughly modern virtuoso performances:  I wish that their famous pas de trois with Ali were the climax, at the end of the ballet, and not placed so early on.  Structurally, the story is less than satisfactory.

The company has risen to a higher technical level since Tamara Rojo took over, and it is very exciting that they have launched such a lavish new production of a ballet that is not in the repertoire of any other British company.  I feel that there is still work to be done on developing the nineteenth century style of the piece, but this beautifully presented, vivid, colourful and romantic production is a joy to watch.  Do go if you can!

Maggie Watson

24 October 2013

Link for tickets: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/le-corsaire/new-theatre-oxford/