The Pennsylvania Ballet's new Le Corsaire is a sparkling jewel box of a ballet, with many great performances, gorgeous sets, and frequent costume changes.
It is a ballet that artistic director Angel Corella enjoyed dancing many times in his career, and he reimagined the classic Petipa choreography with the insights and wishes that came from exploring the role every which way.
Le Corsaire is about a pirate, Conrad (Arian Molina Soca on opening night), who falls in love with a harem girl, Medora (Lillian DiPiazza). She, in turn, is stolen by the older Pasha (Jon Martin). Conrad and Medora face many trials to get together.
It is an Arabian ballet full of gauzy veils, prayer mats, even a hookah -- but, happily, without 21st-century politics.
The plot in Corella's two-act ballet -- down from the original hours-long four acts -- can be hard to follow. Frequent interruptions in the tale for divertissements -- dances that have little to do with the story -- also complicate the telling. But the ballet is such a feast for the eyes it hardly matters.
Set to a score by Adolphe Adam, Le Corsaire highlights male dancers especially well, but DiPiazza shines as Medora. A new principal dancer this season, DiPiazza has grown a great deal artistically in the last year or so. She looked especially radiant in a trio partnering the two leading men, Molina Soca and Sterling Baca, as Ali, Conrad's servant.
The men in the cast all but fly, with Molina Soca, Baca, Jermel Johnson as the evil Lankendem, and Etienne Diaz as Conrad's friend Birbanto soaring through huge leaps and series of turns.
Ana Calderon, Oksana Maslova, and Dayesi Torriente impressed as the Odalisques, a trio of difficult solos.
A flaw in Corella's Corsaire is that the corps de ballet does little dancing, instead posing in the background or waving garlands in simple patterns. This is typical of 19th-century story ballets, but Corella has too many talented dancers to use them as scenery.
At times, the ballet, with huge, stunning sets by Simon Pastukh, seems more like a series of pas de deux and variations strung together than a multilayered ballet. But with many great performances and so much beauty, Corsaire is a welcome addition to the Pennsylvania Ballet's repertoire.