At a time when there seems to be so much focus on being choreographically innovative, it is refreshing to see a company like Mariinsky Ballet at The Kennedy Center perform a classical ballet such as Le Corsaire. There is value to maintaining tradition and to carrying on its legacy for years; Le Corsaire having premiered to the world over 150 years ago is testament to this. It contains elements that one expects from a classical ballet – a dramatic story line, virtuosity, beautiful scenery and costumes – as well as a couple that you don’t realize you have been missing until you see them again, such as character dancing and rows of corp de ballet ladies.
Le Corsaire‘s script is thin and unsophisticated, but nevertheless serves as a solid foundation on which to mount series of dances. In a nutshell, all the men (the pirates and the Turks) are in awe of the beauty of all the Greek women for whom they fight over using swords, hands, and trickery; it’s all a bit barbaric really. But somehow, the audience can overlook this and appreciate the artistry, showmanship, and technical solidity of the dancers.
One cannot attend this opening night without mention of the cast’s Medora, Maria Khoreva, the young (eighteen years old!) Russian talent that just graduated from the Vaganova Academy last year and is currently a First Soloist with the company. There is no doubt that she is prodigious in all the ways a ballerina can be – she is expressive with body and face, has admirable control of her technique, and can impressively carry the weight as the principal dancer of a full-length ballet. These are no easy feats. Although few and far between, there were a few moments of shakiness (her fouettés traveled the entire depth of the stage) and lack of refinement (toes not always stretched to their very maximum), but these are all forgivable of any ballerina as there is no such thing as perfection. One has to wonder though what the need is to have Ms. Khoreva rise through the ranks so rapidly thus skipping the learning opportunities of being in a corp de ballet. Will early stardom and spotlights be detrimental to her growth? Surely the world will be witness as we follow her career.
A special round of applause needs to be given to the male dancers of the Mariinsky Ballet who embody the athleticism, grace, and wow factor that audience members love to see. Alexei Timofeyev, who dances as Lankedem, the slave-trader, has such a magnificent, deep plié which makes his lofty jumps seem all the loftier as he travels vertically from the lowest lows to a height that takes your breath away. Conrad (the corsair) is danced by Timur Askerov who has a princely presence whether simply walking or executing a series of tightly-fifthed double assemblé en tournant. And Kimin Kim is the dancer who brings chills to my spine and tears to my eyes as an oh-so-elegant Ali, Lankedem’s servant. He encompasses a character that must be simultaneously humble, courageous, and protective in a way that makes sense, all the while stunning as he soars through the air in such precise form. He must be a photographer’s dream for the golden opportunities his lengthy hang time provides.
A bit lackluster are some of the female soloists. Nadezhda Batoeva seems aggressive as Gulnara, demonstrating a lot of attack in her approach, but little grace. And the three Odalisques don’t seem to gel quite right, musically or in formation; this is a shame, as the solos are often chance to see up and coming talent in a company; Maria Bulanova is by far the strongest of the trio.