Le Corsaire

A sumptuous and seductive visit to the Barbary Coast by the famed Bolshoi Ballet

Word has spread about the Bolshoi Ballet – Live in HD series at Queen's Film Theatre. Queues are long and form early, and there's no point in turning up without a ticket. The crowd of ballet aficionados, new and old, are in comradely good spirits for the now regular Sunday afternoon celebration of the art form.

Le Corsaire was originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet by Joseph Mazilier in 1856, inspired by an epic poem of the same title by Lord Byron. Its Bolshoi premiere was two years later in Moscow, and, after being reimagined by Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burklava, the current incarnation of the ballet is widely acknowledged as the most sumptuous version ever.

After the customary peek back-stage, the curtain rises on a teeming bazaar and slave market somewhere on the Barbary Coast of north Africa. Impossibly jolly slave girls primp and preen and flirt to get the best deal for their masters. The colourful scene unfolds against huge, hand-painted backcloths depicting the minarets and domed palaces clustered around a busy harbour.

These gorgeous works of art by set designer Boris Kaminsky lend the production a bewitchingly old fashioned flavour. It is far removed from the computerised designs and lifelike three-dimensional effects more frequently presented to modern day audiences.  

Amongst all the hustle and bustle of the bazaar, a band of swashbuckling pirates disembarks. They are led by the dashing eponymous corsair Conrad (Ruslan Skvortsov). The gaggle of girls jostle either to catch a pirate’s roving eye or to join the harem of the absurd, lecherous Pasha, but one figure remains aloof.

She is the Greek beauty Medora (Svetlana Lunkina), whose guardian is intent on selling her to the Pasha in return for untold treasures.  Inevitably Medora and Conrad fall instantly in love and the story of their passionate but dangerous relationship unfolds over the course of the next three and a half hours.

Lunkina and Skvortsov make a glamorous couple. Their good looks and technical brilliance forge a genuine stage partnership of equals. This is particularly evident in the celebrated Corsaire Pas de Deux. They depart on a voyage across mountainously craggy seas to a gloomy towering cavern, where treacherous plots of murder and kidnap are hatched against them.  

The path of true love, of course, does not run smoothly. Medora finds herself in the very place she hoped to avoid – the opulent seraglio of the Pasha.

This is the setting for three of the ballet’s spectacular set pieces: the 'Pas d’Esclave', the 'Pas de Trois des Odalisques' (prettily danced by a trio of young soloists) and the heart-stopping 'Le Jardin Animé'. The last is perhaps the most striking. It is a frothy, pastel coloured feast of flower garlands and ivory voile tutus, performed by more than 30 dancers.

Praise must also go to the enchanting Nina Kaptsova, last seen as Maria in the Nutcracker. She is perfectly cast here as the pert, mischievous Gulnare, who volunteers to swap identities with the veiled Medora at her hastily arranged wedding to the, by now, utterly bewildered Pasha.

This feast of storytelling, pantomime tradition and sublime dance reaches its climax in a dramatic shipwreck, in which a great galleon cracks asunder before our eyes. But, unlike, Byron’s poem, the ending is a happy one. Medora and Conrad are washed up safely on a sandy beach in an emotional show-stopping finale. The audiences in Moscow and Belfast are simultaneously drained of emotion and speechless with admiration.

For more information on The Bolshoi Ballet Live in HD Season in Belfast go to Queen's Film Theatre's website.