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Boston Ballet opens season with ‘Le Corsaire’

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

The Boston Ballet opened its 2016/2017 season last Thursday with Ivan Liška’s “Le Corsaire.” The Opera House performance follows the adventures of the pirate captain Conrad, who falls in love with a slave trader’s foster daughter, Medora, and must fight various obstacles to keep her. “Le Corsaire” is a production in keeping with the dramatic, regal history of ballet, despite the more casual performance experience of recent times.

In the end, this production comes down to good storytelling. The same fantasy and exoticism that captivated the original audiences of 19th century Russia continue to entrance contemporary viewers. The libretto, originally created by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and loosely based on the poem of the same name by Lord Byron, has it all: Sword fighting, jealousy, romance, kings, lavish wealth and even a harem make appearances.

Wide appeal

The season wisely opened with a show appealing to a variety of audiences. The narrative is dynamic enough to keep the attention of small children or first-time ballet-goers who may be hesitant about such a traditional art form. Divided into three acts, there is one short break and then a full intermission. This allows audience-goers to digest the material before viewing the next chapter of the story.

As always, the technique of the show was impeccable. Lasha Khozashvili’s Conrad was both roguish and daring, while remaining a sensitive romantic. Irlan Silva as Ali, the slave boy-turned pirate, moved with such combined power and grace that piracy suddenly seemed an entirely sophisticated and courageous trade. For all the drama of the performance, there was equal comedy. In one scene, Conrad tries to woo Medora to bed and gets frustrated as she continually teases him and then flounces away. In another scene, an ambitious slave girl tries repeatedly to get the attention of the king, despite clearly not being wanted.

The aesthetics of “Le Corsaire” warrant its own exhibit. Robert Kirk’s staging seamlessly transitioned from a portrait of pirates fighting a stormy sea to the extravagant boudoir of the king’s harem. As the harem girls perform for the king, the stage becomes a field of moving flowers, the dancers carrying garlands woven into delicate patterns that create a visual fairyland in which Medora moves.

A trip to The Boston Ballet is rarely a waste, but “Le Corsaire” deserves special recognition as a particularly enjoyable performance. Quicker paced and more adventurous than the traditional “Nutcracker,” the show offers a kind of adventure that ostensibly clashes with the delicacy of ballet, but in practice perfectly marries the two. For a riveting, romantic escape from the city streets, “Le Corsaire” is a must-see.

Playing now through November 6, 2016.

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