#Throwback Thursday: Le Corsaire

Today's #ThrowbackThursday is the ballet Le Corsaire!

Svetlana Zakharova and Dmitry Semionov, Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet

Le Corsaire follows the story of a young Greek girl named Medora. She is sold by a slave-dealer to a man named Pasha. The pirate Conrad declares his love for her and snatches her away. Conrad's jealous first mate sends Medora back to the slave-dealer, who sells her back to Pasha. Conrad and his men attempt to rescue Medora, but Conrad is recognised and sentenced to death.

Market scene, Bolshoi Ballet

Medora, who is in love with Conrad, plots to escape and save his life with a fellow slave-girl named Gulnare. Medora agrees to marry Pasha, but during the ceremony Gulnare takes her place and has the ring placed on her finger. Medora then dances for Pasha and convinces him to lay down his weapons. Conrad then comes to take her away. In the resulting confusion, Gulnare produces her wedding ring and declares herself Pasha's lawful wife. Meanwhile, the ship which Conrad and Medora made their escape on is wrecked, but the lovers are saved when they wash up on a rock.

Bolshoi Ballet

Le Corsaire is generally a three-act ballet, with a libretto written by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and loosely based on Lord Byron's poem The Corsair. The ballet was originally choreographed by Joseph Mazilier to music by Adolphe Adam, for the Italian ballerina Carolina Rosati, the prima ballerina of the Theatre Imperial de la Opera in Paris. It was first presented on 23 January 1856. In the original production, the role of Conrad did not involve any dancing; the original artist was the Italian Domineco Segarelli, who, though an accomplished dancer, won the role through his mime abilities.

'Le jardin anime', Bolshoi Ballet

Jules Perrot staged the ballet for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg on 24 January 1858. The prima ballerina Ekaterina Friedburg danced the role of Medora, and a young Marius Petipa performed the role of Conrad. Petipa assisted Perrot during rehearsals and even revised several of the dances. Petipa eventually produced four revivals of the ballet in his capacity as ballet master of the Imperial Theatre. His first revival was staged for his wife, the prima ballerina Maria Surovshchikova-Petipa, with Christian Johansson as Conrad. It premiered on 5 February 1863, with a score revised by Cesare Pugni.

Pierina Legat as Medora and Olga Preobrajenska as Gulnare, dressed for 'Le jardin anime', 1899

Four years later in France, Joseph Mazilier came out of retirement to produce a staging of the ballet for the 1867 Exposition Universalle, given that same year. Famed German ballerina Adele Grantzow danced the role of Medora, and Leo Delibes (a student of Adolphe Adam) composed a new pas de fleurs specifically for her. It premiered on 21 October 1867 and was performed 38 times. After Grantzow's departure, however, it was removed from the Opera's repertoire. On the ballerina's visit to Russia in late 1867, on the invitation of Emperor Alexander II, Petipa staged another revival of Le Corsaire. It premiered on 6 Fenruary 1868, and featured new dances to music composed by Pugni. Petipa's third revival was staged for Eugeniia Sokolova and premiered on 22 November 1880.

Pavel Gerdt as Conrad, Pierina Legat as Medora and Alfred Bekefi as the Seyd, 1899

But the most important production was Petipa's last. It premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on 25 January 1899 as a benefit performance for prima ballerina assoluta Pierina Legnani, who danced Medora. Olga Preobrajenska performed the role of Gulnare, and Pavel Gerdt performed Conrad. Most modern productions follow this production's lead. Petipa also staged several versions of the ballet for the Bolshoi Imperial Theatre, in 1858 and 1888, to great success. The ballet was performed fairly regularly at the Bolshoi. In 1894, the Bolshoi's new ballet master Ivan Clustine staged a new production in 1894, but Petipa complained that Clustine had plagiarised his work, especially his Le jardin anime.

Alina Cojocaru, English National Ballet

Alexander Gorsky staged a revival on 25 January 1912, with substantial changes, incorporating music by different composers for an entirely new set of dances. This production starred Ekaterina Geltzer as Medora, and Vasily Tikhomirov as Conrad. Gorsky's revival was performed by the Bolshoi until 1927, and, despite some pieces surviving as stand-alone works, was then lost until Konstantin Sergeyev staged a revival in 1997. On 21 June 2007, the Bolshoi staged a reproduction of the ballet, created by Yuri Burlaka and Alexei Ratmansky with a massive budget of 1.5 million USD. Burlaka utilised notations from the Sergeyev collection to reconstruct the ballet.

Odalisques, Bolshoi Ballet

Petipa's 1899 production continued to be performed until 1928, and had been performed 228 times. Agrippina Vaganova staged a revival in 1931, and revised the so-called Le Corsaire pas de deux for her pupil Natalia Dudinskaya, who then starred in the 1936 Kirov/Mariinsky revival. Konstantin Sergeyev added various new pieces, but the work was rarely performed and disappeared from the repertoire in 1956. Pyotr Gusev staged a new version with a complete new score in 1955 for the Maly Theatre Ballet in Leningrad. It went on the become the most popular version of the ballet in Russia, and in 1977 Oleg Vinogradov staged the production for the Kirov/Mariinsky ballet, a work which they still retain. The Novosibirsk Ballet and the Mikhailovsky Ballet Theatre also perform the work.

American Ballet Theatre

Konstantin Sergeyev had attempted his own revival for the Kirov Ballet in 1973, but the work was pulled after only three performances (it is rumoured that Soviet officials were not happy with Sergeyev due to the recent defections of star dancers Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov). He was invited to restaged it in 1992, but despite great success, the production was pulled after seven performances. Sergeyev's production then travelled to America at the suggestion of the choreographer's wife, ballerina Natalia Dudinskaya, who aided the Boston Ballet in their staging of the production. The work was then rented by the American Ballet Theatre. The Bavarian State Ballet staged a partial reconstruction of Petipa's 1899 production in 2009, and the Bolshoi Ballet presented a full-length work by Alexei Ratmansky with partial reconstructions in 2007. The English National Ballet toured a full-length production in 2016, to great success.

Alina Cojocaru and Vadim Muntagirov, English National Ballet

Here's Svetlana Zakharova in the Bolshoi Ballet's 2007 production:

Thanks for reading! There will be a bit of a delay in next week's posts as I am moving back to Wellington, so Spotlight Saturday will be postponed until next weekend.

- Selene

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