© Brescia - Amisano

A new “Corsaire” at La Scala

Anna-Marie Holmes stages a new production of this classical blockbuster in Milan

by Alessandro Bizzotto

There is a kind of guilty pleasure in watching Anna-Marie Holmes’ staging of a classical blockbuster such as “Le Corsaire”. In these years during which contemporary choreography becomes, at times, barely understandable, a big repertoire ballet can be a shot in the arm. In this respect, “Le Corsaire” is a true triumph of classicism, and Holmes’ version is a much-danced one.

Even when someone starts thinking this ballet is excessively long with its three acts and tons of variations, pas de deux, pas de trois and ensemble scenes, it is reassuring in a way to keep seating and to enjoy classical technique without getting bored.

Nicoletta Manni (right) and Marco Agostino (center) © Brescia – Amisano

Anna-Marie Holmes’ “Le Corsaire”, created more than twenty years ago for the Boston Ballet, is flamboyant, sumptuous, lavish – its structure tests dancers’ technique (by her own admission, Holmes always adapts the choreography to suit the company for which she is staging the ballet) and seems not to care that much about storytelling. Pirates, poisoned flowers, kidnaps, love and a shipwreck – there’s a lot on the plate. What matters the most, in “Le Corsaire”, is to keep dancing.

The ballet enters the repertoire of La Scala Ballet going on stage for the very first time this season, as an homage to the original creator Marius Petipa marking 200 years since his birth.

It is a sin that art director and costume designer Luisa Spinatelli has willingly chosen painted backdrops for this new production – they are exceedingly well painted, but flat and somehow dull. Spinatelli has made a much better service to this production creating its luxurious and colourful costumes.

Martina Arduino (center) © Brescia – Amisano

The music’s patchwork, which includes Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Léo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo and Peter von Oldenburg, is cheering and entertaining, well conducted by Patrick Fournillier.

The new generation of Soloists and First soloists of La Scala Ballet Company, today, seems to need no foreign guest to give life to such a milestone of ballet history.

As heroine Medora, First soloist Nicoletta Manni dances with stylish assurance. Particularly in Act One she is flirty, sparkling, nearly coquettish while showing off her technique. In the pompous pas de trois of Act Two she looks fiery and fearless and she well executes her series of thirty-two fouetté turns, with a noteworthy number of double ones. Her pretty sense of knowingness, however, seems to fade a little into something more conventional over the three acts, particularly in the Jardin Animé scene.

Martina Arduino as Gulnare © Brescia – Amisano

Her love, the pirate Conrad, is new First soloist Timofej Andrijashenko, who masterfully controls turns and jumps. It is a pity that his performance lacks spontaneity.

Manni and Andrijashenko make an impressive couple rather than a magnetic one.

The leading couple, so, ends up being better played by second cast. New First soloist Martina Arduino embodies a surprising Medora. Her storytelling might not be always as clear as Manni’s one, but Arduino looks at her finest as she floats across the stage in easy jumps. Her fouettés in the pas de trois are remarkably controlled, and she even shapes legato passages with an unexpected nuanced phrasing.

Opposite her, Conrad is Soloist Marco Agostino. If there is a bit less purity in his technique than in Andrijashenko’s one, his character is way better portrayed – there’s not just fine dancing tonight with Agostino, but a dashing stage presence as well. He has even a kind of urgency and a heroic force that make his love story with Arduino’s Medora more romantic.

Marco Agostino as Conrad and Martina Arduino as Medora © Brescia – Amisano

Young corps member Mattia Semperboni dances Ali, the slave, nearly in every performance. He sprints into action with clean jumps and speed. He would need just more enthusiasm and less self-complacency.

Opposite Manni’s Medora and Andrijashenko’s Conrad, Marco Agostino plays also slave trader Lakendem, a role he dances with genuine and contagious refinement. First soloist Antonino Sutera excels as the villain Birbanto with his bold and buoyant dancing.

In other performances (with Arduino and Agostino as Medora and Conrad) new Soloist Nicola Del Freo dances Lakendem proving himself both a classicist of refinement and a reliable partner, and showing some potential as an actor too.

As Gulnare, both First soloists Virna Toppi and Martina Arduino have some difficulties in mastering the hard diagonal of Act One variation, but their dancing is always musically effective. Toppi dances wonderfully in the Jardin Animé and her Gulnare seems to have even a dramatic depth; for her part, Arduino portrays a more unconscious Gulnare, a slave who doesn’t take her condition too seriously.