La Scala Ballet’s Spectacular Corsaire in HK Arts Festival

March 18, 2024 06:00

La Scala Ballet, the most prestigious ballet company of Italy, last performed in the Hong Kong Arts Festival exactly ten years ago. So its return to this year’s Festival with “Le Corsaire” (The Pirate) has been eagerly awaited.

“Le Corsaire” (The Pirate), was premiered at the Paris Opera in 1856. Later, this three-act ballet was completely re-choreographed in 1899 by Marius Petipa in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is from this production that present productions are derived. “Le Corsaire” however is not as popular as Petipa’s other more famous classics such as “Swan Lake”.

Inspired by Byron’s 1814 poem, the ballet’s flimsy story follows the escapades of a handsome pirate, Conrad, who journeys across the high seas to save his beloved Medora, a noblewoman captured and sold as a slave. It is a swashbuckling fantasy tale of captive maidens and cutthroats, love and betrayal.

La Scala’s previous production of “Le Corsaire” was by Anna-Marie Holmes who strived to be as faithful as possible to Petipa’s choreography. Her production is the most well-known production of this ballet in Western companies, and is in the repertory of a number of companies worldwide including the American Ballet Theatre. Hong Kong Ballet has also danced a shorter version of this production.

La Scala’s new 2023 production of “Le Corsaire” is by its current artistic director Manuel Legris, a former star of the Paris Opera Ballet who was appointed by Rudolf Nureyev in the 1980s when he was its artistic director. Legris has lengthened the ballet to try to make the story more substantial.

Legris has reinforced the leading characters by giving them more solos and duets. He has added an expressive bedroom duet for Conrad and Medora at the end of Act 2 set to Delibes’ music from another ballet “Sylvia’. And he has increased the dancing in particular for Birbanto, Conrad’s second-in-command, as well as his lover Zulmea, a local merchant’s daughter.

However, Legris has omitted the well-known character of Ali the slave in the showpiece duet in Act 2 which is now danced instead by Conrad, the lead pirate, with Medora. In addition, Legris has changed the choreography of the trio of odalisques in Act 3.

The three odalisques’ solos are full of petit allegro steps and are technically challenging. Nevertheless, it would have been preferable to retain the original choreography. Fortunately, he has kept intact Petipa’s choreography for the Jardin Anime (Animated Garden) dream scene in Act 3.

The extensive dancing makes this production a good vehicle to show off the whole company’s strength in all ranks. The female corps de ballet was glorious in the garland dance in the Jardin Anime dream scene. The pirates’ dance and the villagers’ dance were performed with high spirits by the company.

The first cast was led by La Scala’s most stellar partnership – Nicoletta Mani and her husband Timofej Andrijashenko. Andrijashenko was noble as Conrad and was dazzling in his several solos. Nicoletta Mani was excellent as Medora. They were melting in the duets. Martina Arduino shone as the other noblewoman Gulnare.

Marco Agostino was superb as the evil slave trader Lankedem, while Claudio Coviello impressed as the rebellious Birbanto. Linda Giubelli was a lively Zulmea. Luisa Spinatelli’s lavish costumes and sets were a feast for the eye. The final shipwreck scene was theatrical.

This new spectacular La Scala production of “Le Corsaire” was greeted by an excited audience with warm applause and prolonged ovations on the first two nights. It has been a while since such high quality classical dancing was last seen in Hong Kong – during the Hamburg Ballet’s tour in the 2019 Arts Festival.

The Hankyung arte Philharmonic from South Korea was superb under the baton of Valery Ovsyanikov.

Photo by Brescia e Amisano, Teatro alla Scala


veteran dance critic