Le Corsaire

Le Corsaire ballet. Libretto (after Lord Byron's poem The Corsair), choreography, and stage direction by Kader Belarbi. Assistant Choreographer was Laure Muret. Performed 2013 at the Théâtre National du Capitole de Toulouse. Original music composed by Adolphe Adam, with additional music by Anton Arensky, David Coleman, Édouard Lalo, Jules Massenet, and and Jean Sibelius. Stars Maria Gutierrez (Slave-Girl), Davit Galstyan (Corsaire), Takafumi Watanabe (Sultan), Juliette Thélin (Sultan's Favorite Concubine), Demian Vargas (Corsair's Companion), Juliana Bastos and Julie Loria (Two Slaves), Henrik Victorin (Slave Trader), Cédric Pons (Guard) and Joël Sitbon (Guard). In addition, Ballet du Capitole Supernumeraries playing the roles of Concubines, Dervishes, Peris, Corsairs, City Folk, etc. include Nuria Arteaga, Virginie Baïet-Dartigalongue, Taisha Barton-Rowledge, Juliana Bastos, Isabelle Brusson, Olivia Hartzell, Lauren Kennedy, Ina Lesnakowski, Julia Loria, Maki Matsuoka, Solène Monnereau, Gwenaëlle Poline, Pascale Saurel, Vanessa Spiteri, Alexander Akulov, Matthew Astley, Petros Chrkhoyan, Kamill-Ariston Chudoba, Adrien Delépine, Pierre Devaux, Jean-Gabriel Evrard, Julian Ims, Shizen Kazama, Jérémy Leydier, Nicolas Rombout, Henrik Victorin, Yannick Valentian, and Stéphane Motard. David Coleman directs the Orchestre National du Capitole. Sets by Sylvie Olivé; costumes by Olivier Bériot; lighting by Marian Hewlett; Camille Ansquer assisted in designing sets; artistic advice by Martine Kahame; music advice by Elena Rassadkina Bonnay.   Directed for screen by Luc Riolon; produced by Fabienne Servan Schreiber and Laurence Miller. Released 2014, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C+

Le Corsaire, a pirate adventure story, is part of the Petipa canon, but it doesn't have a standard libretto. The many versions all appear to have the following elements: (1) a dashing pirate commander (the corsaire) and a beautiful slave-girl who are in love, (2) a sultan who buys the slave-girl, (3) a fight over the girl, and (4) a final storm scene where the corsaire and the girl die, or survive. Of course, the more extravagant the plot, the better. Well, the budget at the Théâtre National du Capitole didn't allow anything too wild.

So the result was a Corsaire-lite production, about which I'm now conflicted.  I love the bright lighting provided by Marian Hewlett. This allowed Luc Riolon to make beautiful video images throughout with special emphasis on full-stage and mid-range shots mostly showing all the dancers completely. (The video is spiced up with some appropriate near-range shots, but I don't recall a single close-up). The lighting and video of the storm scene was impressive. I liked the costumes and the sets made mostly of delicate fabrics stretched over big  wire frames that could be lowered from the fly. I also liked the way the music was put together, performed, and recorded.

But I was disappointed with the libretto and the dancing. I usually watch new titles at night after I've finished my pay job. But this Le Corsaire-lite made me nod off every time. Eventually I would wake up not knowing what I had missed. So to review this, I had to arrange to watch it mornings. The reason I could not stay awake is Kader Belarbi's libretto, which deals with the stupidest sultan who ever squandered a fortune and the most pitiful pirates who ever deserved to walk the plank.

Here we are at the slave market. Our Slave-girl (Maria Gutierrez) is on the viewer's left standing with 2 other girls for sale (none of the characters has a name). The Slave-trader (Henrik Victorin) is bowing to the Sultan (Takafumi Watanabe). At your far right in the long rose-colored gown is the sultan's Favorite Concubine (Juliette Thélin):

When the Slave-trader is distracted, the Corsaire (Davit Galstyan), wearing a red bandana, talks to our Slave-girl. The Corsaire's Companion (Demian Vargas), wearing a green bandana, talks to another of the girls:

The Sultan buys our Slave-girl.  This distresses the Favorite because the new girl is so pretty. The Favorite knows the corsaires. She gets the Companion to go to the Sultan's quarters disguised as the new Slave-girl. The Favorite wants the Corsaire and the Slave-girl to have a few minutes to meet and fall in love. Here we see the Favorite's scheme is working:

The Sultan realizes he's been tricked and fetches his new Slave-girl. Now we visit the concubine quarters in the seraglio:

The Slave-girl gets her new finery:

In honor of his new acquisition, the Sultan throws a big party with lavish entertainment. Here's a scene with Dervishes, but these are no good at whirling. They turn just fast enough to get their skirts to flare out, and then they flop on the floor:

The Slave-girl feels she has been unjustly enslaved and sold. The Sultan tries his best to win her over, but the Slave-girl can't bear the idea of kissing him:

The Sultan takes her by force and storms out of the seraglio:

The Favorite helps the Corsaire enter the seraglio, where he comforts the Slave-girl:

To make the Slave-girl hate the Sultan even more, the Favorite betrays the Corsaire to the Sultan, who takes the Corsaire captive:

Here's where I start having trouble with the libretto. Everybody knows that sultans have vast palaces protected by scores of servants and armed guards. Any trespasser in the palace, and especially in the seraglio, would be summarily treated to a custom the Germans call Martern aller Arten ("all the tortures there are") while bound in irons in a deep dungeon guarded by man-eating crocodiles. As soon as the prisoner reveals how he got into the palace, the crocs get their dinner. But no, our Corsaire doesn't go to the dungeon; he lies on the floor in the seraglio and even has the Slave-girl's veil to comfort him. Here he dreams and is visited by Peris, mythical creatures who dance for him:

Now the Favorite has concocted another scheme. She arranges for the Slave-girl (who at this point should be in another dungeon herself) and the Companion to visit the Corsaire together:

And now the Favorite calls the guards again! They arrest the Companion. But the Favorite lets the Corsaire and the Slave-girl escape from the seraglio!! The Favorite thinks the Corsaire and the Slave-girl will seek refuge at the corsaires' den. And then the Companion will lead the Sultan to the fugitives. Well, that's what the synopsis with the keepcase booklet says. But don't you think that after two trespassers and two escapes in two days---all connected with the Favorite---the Sultan and his police would start asking questions?

The Corsaire and the Slave-girl arrive at the den where they are joined by other pirates. Scenes from the pirate party include a famous pas de deux that is often danced at galas, contests, and other ballet events:

Apparently it didn't occur to any of the pirates that since the Sultan has the Companion, the Sultan can probably find the pirates' den. Oh, dear, the Sultan crashes the party. The corsaires, taken by surprise, surrender. What kind of pirates are these? Not a one has a pistol, musket, sword, cutlass, or pike---each is armed with a kitchen knife:

The Sultan kills the Companion and takes his prisoners away to be sold as slaves:

The Sultan knows the Slave-girl will never accept him. But if he doesn't want to keep her, shouldn't he at least recover the fortune he spent on her by selling her himself? Or at least return her to the slave trader for a cheerful refund? Well no, he leaves her and the Corsaire alone in a boat on the shore. A storm arises, but I'll not spoil the end for you:

You can see from the screenshots that all this looks quite nice.  But none of this helps much when it's dragged down by such a thin and improbable libretto.  No sultan could possibly be as inept and dumb as this.  No man caught trespassing in a seraglio sees again the light of day. Any woman, including a Favorite, who aids in such a trespass would also soon be fed to the crocs. No pirate would tarry for even five seconds in a location that has been compromised to the army. This tepid story can't support any dramatic tension or even keep you awake after a glass of wine in the evening.

Now to the dancing. The Théâtre National du Capitole ballet is a regional house with, generally I think, a B+ level cadre of dancers. This kind of group can come up with fine HDVD titles when they dance an exciting  libretto with enthusiasm.  Here I think the dancers tried gamely to make the best of the situation. The stars and the women's corps mostly acquitted themselves pretty well. I felt the men in the corps knew they were dancing a turkey and were all just dying to just get it over with. "C" is an accurate grade for this title, but I'll move to a "C+" on account of the excellent videography.