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‘Corsaire’ is rare treat for patrons, neophytes

By Marc Shulgold, Rocky Mountain News

Don't let the title fool you - Colorado Ballet's Le Corsaire (The Pirate) spends only a minute or two on the bounding main with those vandals of the high seas.

This compact tale, which opened over the weekend at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, is merely an old-fashioned, colorfully costumed love story: A pirate and slave girl fall in love, he frees her from the harem and they live happily ever after.

Originally a convoluted three-act ballet, this staple of Russian companies has been trimmed to a manageable two acts by Eldar Aliev, a former Kirov dancer. Audiences are the beneficiary - along with the work itself.

Face it: Ballet is not about crazy plot lines, character development and dramatic crises. Ballet is about dancing. And there's tons of it in this production. It doesn't get more superficially pleasurable than this.

The costumes of Galina Slovyeva provide plenty of eye candy, as do the imaginative painted drops of scenic designer Simon Pastukh. Best of all, Aliev has set some delightful choreography on the dancers.

The corps enjoys many attractive moments of unison ensemble, soloists make the most of an extended pas de trois and pas de quatre, and the principals cash in big time on solos and pas de deux that emphasize lovely adagio steps along with crowd-pleasing leaps and barrel turns.

At Saturday's performance, Sharon Wehner and impressive newcomer Alex Tyukov danced the love-birds Medora and Conrad. With the recent departure of Wehner's longtime partner, Koichi Kubo, one worried about the success of this new pairing. Such concerns proved unfounded.

The diminutive Wehner and the tall, powerfully built Tyukov match quite well. When their characters first lock eyes at the slave auction, the two are sweetly fixated on each other, with not a clichéd extended arm or hand-on-heart to be found.

Aliev saved Corsaire's greatest hit for near the end: the bravura pas de deux (often danced as a stand-alone in showcase performances). Here, Wehner and Tyukov made beautiful music together, though his solo variations proved less explosive than hoped. Wehner has never been more elegant, displaying an ideal line, sympathetic acting and previously untapped athleticism.

Secondary roles were capably handled by Asuka Sasaki (as the slave girl Gulnara) and Shunsake Amma (the slave-selling Lankendem). Comic relief was provided in abundance by guest dancer Gregory Gonzales (Pasha).

Praise is also due the trio of Odalisques in Act Two - Dana Benton, Shelby Dyer and Sayaka Karasugi - who excelled in Corsaire's other familiar snippet.

Collectors of ballets will want to catch this production, rarely seen in the West. Best of all, the story is so simple, the staging so crisp and eye-catching that casual fans (and their children) will find much to enjoy. Just don't expect a stage filled with mangy, menacing buccaneers. These are not pirates of the Caribbean.

Le Corsaire (The Pirate)
• Synopsis: A group of pirates sails into port and greets their leader, Conrad. In the Greek marketplace, the Seid Pasha, a rich aristocrat, enters as an auction of slave girls begins. The Pasha and Conrad are captivated by Medora, who is purchased by the wealthy slave owner, along with another girl, Gulnara. Back in his hideout, Conrad dreams of a garden in which Medora is the loveliest flower. Awakening, he vows to find her. Conrad sneaks into the Pasha's palace and, with the help of Gulnara, escapes with Medora. Back in the grotto with Conrad's pirate band, the couple celebrates their love and newfound freedom.

• History: Premiered in Paris in 1856, the three-act ballet has been recast and revised numerous times, including five stagings by the legendary Marius Petipa. The work was little-known in the West during the last century, except for several scenes excised as stand-alone pieces (notably the bravura pas de deux). Long a staple of the Bolshoi and Kirov ballets in Russia, Corsaire made a splash with a production staged by American Ballet Theatre in 1998.
Le Corsaire

• When and where: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10; continues Oct. 12-14 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 14th and Curtis streets

• Cost: $19 to $145

• Information: 303-837-8888

• Of note: Colorado Ballet opens the 2007-08 season with the classic saga of pirates and harem girls.

Shulgoldm@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5296

Upcoming and the Most Recent Eldar Aliev's Engagements
March – July 2013 – Beijing Dance Academy (Beijing, China) - Guest Teaching engagement
January  - February 2013 – Youth America Grand Prix - (USA) - Judge for the regional competitions
November 2012 – 15th International Dance Festival Shabyt (Astana, Kazakhstan) - Member of International Jury
September – January 2012 – Beijing Dance Academy (Beijing, China) – Guest teaching engagement
August 2012 – Tianjin Ballet of China (Tianjin, China) - Asian Premiere of Eldar Aliev's La Bayadère
July 2012 – 25th Varna International Ballet Competition (Varna, Bulgaria) – Member of International Jury
June – August 2012 – Tianjin Ballet of China (Tianjin, China) – Staging full-length ballet La Bayadère
May 2012 – Zurich Dance Academy – World Premier of Eldar Aliev's The Seasons
April - May 2012 – Liaoning Ballet of China/Ballet Academy – Guest Teaching engagement
April 2012 – Beijing Dance Academy (Beijing, China) - Guest teaching engagement
March 2012 – Zurich Dance Academy (Zurich, Switzerland) - Creating a World Premiere One Act Ballet The Seasons (Music by A.Glazunov, Choreography by Eldar Aliev) 

February 2012 – Liaoning Ballet of China/Ballet Academy – Guest teaching engagement

January 2012 – Serbian National Theater (Novi Sad, Serbia) - Guest teaching engagement
October 2011 – Zurich Dance Academy (Zurich, Switzerland) - Guest teaching engagement
October – December 2011 – Serbian National Theater (Novi Sad, Serbia)  - Staging Eldar Aliev's The Nutcracker
March 2011 – Zurich Dance Academy (Zurich Switzerland) - Guest Teaching engagement
March 2011 – The National Ballet of Slovakia (Bratislava, Slovakia) - Guest teaching engagement
February 2011 – The Hungarian National Ballet (Budapest, Hungary) - Staging Giselle
October  -  2010  - Zurich Dance Academy (Zurich, Switzerland) - Guest teaching engagement
February 2011 – September 2011 – Hungarian National Ballet (Budapest, Hungary)Interim Ballet Director
September 2010 – January 2011 – Hungarian National Ballet (Budapest, Hungary) Principal Advisor to the Ballet Director, First Ballet Master
‘Corsaire’ is rare treat for patrons, neophytes
By Marc Shulgold, Rocky Mountain News
“Le Corsaire is sure to bring wonder to adults, eight-year olds, and everyone in between”
By Bob Bows, ColoradoDrama.com
“Exuberant, fast-paced Le Corsaire gives the dancers, especially the men, a chance to show off their athleticism”
By Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post Fine Arts Critic
“Eldar Aliev understood early on that his main task in putting Le Corsaire onstage was to bring some sense of coherence to a crazy, convoluted story”
By Marc Shulgold, Rocky Mountain News
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