Review: Hong Kong Ballet’s Le Corsaire reaches new heights with superb energy and execution

The exotic fable of a swashbuckling romp on the high seas has been flawlessly brought to life, thanks to the troupe's technical strength and new-found understanding of the choreography

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2017, 4:40pm

Every now and then in the life of a ballet lover, there comes a performance where everything comes together so perfectly that you leave the theatre walking on air. The November 5 matinee of Hong Kong Ballet’s new production of Le Corsaire was one of those moments.

The company has long been distinguished by its energy, commitment and technical strength, but this time the dancers reached another level. The difference was a new-found understanding of the choreography they were dancing – classical ballet is not just steps or even style, it needs to be lived and breathed – and the sheer joy they brought to dancing it.

Hong Kong Ballet put through their paces for Le Corsaire, piratical romp that Anna-Marie Holmes has made her own

The production was staged by Anna-Marie Holmes with the assistance of Julio Bocca. The company has benefited immeasurably from the knowledge, experience and passion brought by these two ballet legends. Much credit goes to them, the artistic team and the dancers themselves for the huge amount of work that went into achieving this truly world-class performance.

Le Corsaire is set somewhere in Ottoman Turkey, where gallant pirate Conrad, his second-in-command Birbanto and his slave Ali (be warned: this is not a politically correct ballet) come ashore with their crew just as slave dealer Lankendem is trying to sell the local Pasha a bevy of beautiful girls he’s kidnapped, among them Medora and her friend Gulnare.

Conrad and Medora fall in love at first sight and the pirates rescue her and carry off some of the slave girls along with Lankendem. However, when Medora persuades Conrad to set the other girls free, Birbanto turns against his captain and Conrad is rendered unconscious by a poisoned rose unwittingly given to him by Medora.

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Abducted by Lankendem, she is taken to the Pasha’s harem where she is reunited with Gulnare. Conrad rescues them and kills Birbanto. He sails off with Medora, Gulnare and Ali but their ship is sunk in a storm and only Conrad and Medora survive.

In case any readers are worried this ballet might not be suitable for children, this preposterous plot is not meant to be taken seriously. The whole affair is a ridiculous romp whose 150 plus years of existence are justified solely by the fact that it’s jam-packed with dazzling dancing.

This Marius Petipa piece features no fewer than six major roles; four for men. It also features one of his finest female trios, the Three Odalisques, and for the female corps de ballet, the famous Jardin Animé (Living Garden) fantasy sequence where the Pasha dreams of the flowers of his harem dancing for him.

While the company was the star, some special mentions must be made. Jin Yao was a radiant, assured Medora, with guest artist Matthew Golding a splendid swashbuckling Conrad. Wei Wei was a convincingly rapacious Lankendem, while Chen Zhiyao was a ravishing Gulnare.

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Li Lin soared and spun his way through some of ballet’s most iconic solos as Ali, while Shunsuke Arimizu brought the Pasha to hilarious life. As Birbanto, Jonathan Spigner not only produced his trademark outstanding acting, but danced with a new brilliance and attack. Dong Ruixue, Peggy Lai Pui-ki and Ayano Haneishi danced flawlessly as the Three Odalisques and the corps de ballet gave a scintillating account of the Jardin Animé.

Judith Yan’s conducting of the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong brought out the best in the music and was admirably sympathetic to the dancers.

Le Corsaire, Hong Kong Ballet, Nov 10-11, 7.30pm; Nov 11-12, 2.30pm. Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre. Tickets: HK$140 to HK$680. Inquiries: 2573 7398

Reviewed: November 5