It all looks gorgeous but British companies have fought shy of Le Corsaire for a reason. The silly tale of lecherous pashas and smiling slave girls calls for a wholehearted, honey-roast acting style seldom found west of the Dnieper and the degree of difficulty is set cruelly high with enough fouettés, barrel turns, chaînés and grandes pirouettes to stock a dance competition. ENB rises to the challenge superbly, getting its 70th anniversary year off to a cracking start. – Louise Levene, THE FINANCIAL TIMES
Erina Takahashi – Medora
Francesco Gabriele Frola – Conrad
Jeffrey Cirio – Ali
Shiori Kase – Gulnare
Brooklyn Mack – Lankendem
Erik Woolhouse – Birbanto
English National Ballet's revival succeeds through sheer choreographic bravura. This is not dance as story or psychology, but dance as feat, as endurance, as a throwing down of the gauntlet. The men are more airborne than earthbound, the Olympian height of their leaps and turns augmented by astounding flourishes and combative kicks. And the women's choreography is no less demanding. – Bidisha, THE OBSERVER
In the programme notes that accompany the English National Ballet's Le Corsaire, Artistic Director Tamara Rojo makes a plea for understanding from the audience for the rather unsavoury subject matter. For Le Corsaire features piracy, slavery and the suppression of women.
Today, we would rightly call out such behaviour, but this is a 19th-century ballet with a distinct whiff of pantomime about it (there's a Pascha who jiggles his large belly with glee) so you should not really take offence at the scantily-clad concubines or dashing pirates.
Instead, the audience can enjoy a wonderful display of dancing in a gloriously colourful and lively production. The story, based on a poem by Lord Byron, verges on the ridiculous: there is a lot of kidnapping, sword waving and even a drug-induced dream sequence, but all this comes second to the dancing, which shows off the company at its very best. – Joy Sable, THE JEWISH CHRONICLE
There may have been new opportunities for younger dancers to shine in this revival, but it was a dancer who has been with ENB for a staggering 24 years (and doesn't look a day older than when she became a principal in 2000) who led this opening night. It is tremendous that the hard-working, evergreen and still fabulous Erina Takahashi is now getting some of the recognition she truly deserves. In truth, she lost her way momentarily in the variation but from that point onwards, her dancing, as the heroine, Medora, was scintillating; so powerful in the coda and beautifully expressive throughout the ballet. As her love interest – the pirate chief, Conrad – Francesco Gabriele Frola brought more than a hint of Errol Flynn with his insouciant bravado and mighty leaps. As his servant, Ali, Jeffrey Cirio danced impeccably and excitingly in this most iconic of male solos – Graham Watts
Perhaps because ballet as an art form is so unreal, it's easy to accept the fantasy it presents on stage as separate from real-life concerns. Le Corsaire is essentially the story of female slaves being bought, sold and kidnapped for a randy pasha's Ottoman harem, painted in the cliches of orientalist exotica – sparkling jewels, bra tops and acres of midriff. It sounds tasteless written down, but in the theatre the audience claps and laughs because it comes with dazzling beauty, great flights of virtuoso dancing, finely etched classical lines and a good dose of theatrical artifice. – Lyndsey Winship, THE GUARDIAN
Erina Takahashi, leading the first cast, is lovely as Medora, the heroine who has to be rescued first from the slave trader Lankendem and then from the Pasha. Takahashi dances with strength and a nice smile, flirtatious when required and opening up her heart with gentle ardency when in the arms of her saviour, Conrad. In the latter role Francesco Gabriele Frola is a dashing pirate hero and a touching partner to Takahashi, while he brings a lyrical energy to his accomplished big moves.
Shiori Kase's dancing — vigorous and vivid — has the wow factor as Gulnare, the hapless slave girl for sale. Brooklyn Mack, as Lankendem, has a spring in his step and heaps of personality. Michael Coleman is the silliest of pashas, doddering around the stage with an enormous belly and generally hamming it up. In the role of the slave Ali, Jeffrey Cirio almost steals the show — his dancing whizzes by with an electrifying force and a spellbinding charisma. – Debra Craine, THE TIMES
The production was designed by Bob Ringwood who gives us gloriously colourful and glittering costumes coupled to similar settings ranging from a lively bazaar, the pirates' cave stuffed with chests of jewels, and an elegantly appointed royal palace. And a shipwreck too. It really is a feast for the eyes…
The women of the corps had their big moment in the jardin animé scene in act 3, where the dozy Pasha dreams of his women as a collection of exotic flowers. The women are in pale pastel tinted tutus, wielding huge garlands as Kase and Takahashi thread delicate solos through their midst. It's another visually ravishing moment. – Lynette Halewood, DANCE TABS
English National Ballet are the only UK company to perform this work in its entirety, and they've made it very much their own, showing off the artistry of a company that's been going from strength to strength under Tamara Rojo's directorship. – Teresa Guerreiro, CULTURE WHISPER
Less memorable is the orchestral score, a pot pourri of the work of 10 mostly very minor composers. But under the baton of Graham Sutherland it sets a cracking pace for the action. Plus it's thrilling to hear such a full, unfettered blast from the pit. The brass section are having a field day. – Jenny Gilbert, THE ARTS DESK
It's glorious, unabashed fun. Le Corsaire may be loosely based on the Byron poem but you won't find any brooding romantic types here — instead a swaggering, bravura spectacle. – Emma Byrne, EVENING STANDARD
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
Auguri e cari saluti!