Cruising “Corsaire”s


Preparing for four “Le Corsaire” (1856-restaged) performances by American Ballet Theatre next weekend at the Music Center. I’ve not seen anything beyond the warhorse pas de deux of this pirate-themed full-evening ballet. The PDD’s a beloved ballet chestnut, an old and familiar friend, bearing the slight tinge of mothballs. My only-middling enthusiasm for a full-length “Corsaire” is further dampened by Alastair Macaulay’s less than thrilled NYT review from last month. Alastair calls the restaging “superficial and frivolous about everything.”

I felt much the same way about ABT’s last full-length presentation in L.A., Ratmansky’s babushka ballet, The Bright Stream here. This evening, too, superficially conceived to the point of political myopia, represented a pressing by ABT into full-evening ballet programming probably for marketing rather than artistic reasons.

But let’s have some fun, let’s don pirate gear and walk the plank of “Corsaire,” comparing male soloists of the present and past.

I’m very fond of Ivan Vasiliev in this loose-limbed rehearsal video of the ne plus ultra of classical ballet pyrotechnics for men. I like Vasiliev a lot; what’s not to like?  He’s delicious, beautifully focused, a bombshell. I like him more than his partner Natalia Osipova, the astonishing technician and burnt-out ballerina. It looks from the Music Center’s nearly indecipherable on-line casting chart that Sunday matinee ticket holders will get Vasiliev in the lead role.

Just because I am on a personal campaign to keep alive the memory of the wonderful Russian dancer Alexander Godunov who lived and died, badly, in Los Angeles, here’s Sasha’s “Corsaire.”

Oh heck, let’s throw Misha in the mix. He was born to dance this role, and he aces it here, captured in Herb Ross’s “The Turning Point” (1977). This is the look of unimaginable perfection that had the dance world in a tizzy when I was dancing in the late seventies. Those deep fourth position lunge-landings from his opening series of tours en l’air (feet tucked up)! ‘Purdy darned good, Mr. B!

Rudi takes it at a slower tempo. More show offy that way. God bless him, he is so great.

I anticipate ABT’s opening night with mixed feelings that match the mixed-rep offerings of the program. I’m most keen to see the Ratmansky work, “Chamber Symphony,” not because I’m a fan but because it’s the only thing ABT is bringing that was made post-1947. Very disappointed  by the uninspired remaining selections — Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” (1947) and “Apollo” (1923), both masterpieces, yes, but good lord, so well trod.

Could we not see a DeMille ballet? Here in Los Angeles where Aggie grew up? A Tudor ballet? A Robbins ballet? An Elliot Feld ballet? A Eugene Loring ballet? Twyla Tharp perhaps? I was fed a heavy diet of Tudor by ABT when I was young; now when I’m old enough to understand it, I never get to see any. Why is ABT, not primarily a Balanchine company, the vehicle for Balanchine 101? Isn’t that what the Balanchine revivalist troupe, the Los Angeles Ballet, is so convinced our southern California dance market has been sorely missing 30 years after Balanchine’s death? I have my doubts.

Could ABT, instead, give L.A. exposure to works by the many great choreographers, rapidly disappearing, from the golden age of American ballet — which was concurrently the golden age of American Ballet Theatre?

American Ballet Theatre | Dorothy Chandler Pavilion | July 11 – 14

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