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Flash Review 1, 6-25: Star-Studded Swashbuckler
Rip-Roaring ABT 'Corsaire' from Acosta & Crew

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- I was watching a ballet performance one recent night. As the performer began his virtuoso sequence of double tours en l'air to prove that he had mastered the fundamentals, I drew in my breath. Was his knee okay, or was it possibly still aggravated from a mishap a few nights before? He managed the first tour just fine, and then hesitated and balked on the second. The audience moaned. Indeed, Derek Jeter had sustained a knee injury and couldn't continue the performance. And then I woke up.

What the interpretation of this dream may mean beyond that it's June in New York, I'll leave to the experts. However, watching American Ballet Theatre's June 20 performance of "Le Corsaire" at the Metropolitan Opera House imparted a similar feeling to that of watching the Yankees on any given night. The company is stocked with talent as deep as the Caspian Sea. The cast I saw headlined Paloma Herrera and Carlos Acosta, and in supporting roles, Xiomara Reyes, Joaquin de Luz, Angel Corella, and Vladimir Malakhov. So deep was it that the capable Carlos Molina played the pasha, a comic character role.

This production of "Le Corsaire" was choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev (after Petipa, who set the prototype for this version on the Maryinsky Ballet in 1899). It was staged for Boston Ballet in 1997 by Anna-Marie Holmes, assisted by Tatiana Legat, Tatiana Terekhova, and Sergei Berejnoi, and bowed at ABT in 1998. It is a sumptuous yet playful ballet about the triumph of love and the human spirit told through pirates, slave girls, pashas, and devious sidekicks. Herrera portrayed Medora, the top-of-the-line slave girl, beautiful yet feisty and the coin of choice among the male power brokers. This role coaxed some animated acting from Herrera, who can be stingy with emotional expression despite her daunting physical gifts. She performed with verve, displaying good stamina in a series of arabesque promenades en dehors, segueing into fouettes on the same leg. She carved well-paced piques (every other a double) to a tricky medium tempo.

Acosta, in the role of Conrad, a pirate, was swashbuckling, roguish and sympathetic. He made difficult moves look easy, launching into tours en l'air with no advance giveaway. His huge, new fan base clucked in self-approval with his every step. While such adulation is not undeserved, I suspect it is largely based on his effortless soaring jetes and pleasing proper limb positioning in turns, rather than his excellent partnering abilities, which if truly skilled are best unnoticed. Indeed, he and Herrera made a wonderful pair, and looked as if they'd danced together for a decade. Acosta was solidly strong in an overhead, sustained press lift, and spun Herrera quickly in her multiple pirouettes, all the while keeping character.

In contrast to Acosta's unhurried charm, Corella veritably burst into every sequence. He is normally a firecracker, feeding a great deal of energy into every moment onstage, but he turned it up a notch in the role of Ali, a slave. His lunges were rock solid, his jetes had extra ballon, and his a la second leg in turns was high to a fault, distorting his line in the flip-book multiple turn sequence. Yet all the work paid dividends as he was clearly the crowd favorite by ovation time despite the Acosta welcome wagon. De Luz, as the traitorous Birbanto, showed his clean, sharp legs and feet and an impressive slow diminishing finish after five pirouettes. Reyes displayed a fearlessness as Gulnare, exploding from standing into jetes, and performing faultlessly a devilish, very fast chain of alternating single and double pique turns. Malakhov heartily acted his role of Lankendem, bazaar owner, and Molina as the pasha used his physical expressiveness to great humorous effect.

While the women aren't exactly role model material, a dream sequence (not involving Derek Jeter) gave the women in the company, and some talented girls and boys, some prime time to show off their strong fundamentals, even while holding flowered arches overhead for long stretches. A trio of odalisques (Maria Riccetto, Michele Wiles, and Gillian Murphy) shone with brilliant, clean petit allegro and some serious spinning, repeating triple pirouettes executed as if routine, and adding a quad as an exclamation point. It was an evening of nearly flawless ballet, telling a ripping good yarn.

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