Philadelphia High School Writers Review Angel Corella’s Le Corsaire

Mayara Corsaire
Principal Dancer Mayara Pineiro in Le Corsaire             Photo: Arian Molina Soca

Enoch Tariku

Central High School
Class of 2020


My first visit to the Academy of Music on March 11, 2017 was to see Le Corsaire, an ancient story of love between a pirate and a slave girl, which was performed by dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet. Having said that it was my first time seeing any show at the Academy, I must make a confession about my sentiment going in. I just couldn’t grasp why a modern audience would be interested in a tale as old as time. And so I paid attention to what made the show tick. After some research and thinking, I’ve decided that Le Corsaire has two things to offer modern audiences: a comparison of today’s idea of love and dance versus long ago’s, and its appeal to the eye.  Now, with that information at hand, please take your seats, as the show is about to begin.


We have all heard that love is patient, kind, and just about anything else people want to call what they can’t see. What about true love? You know, it is that thing you hear about in stories which does not really exist in such perfection and always end the same way. Everybody gets exactly what they want. In Le Corsaire, however, that is not the case! Although the two mains, Conrad, a pirate, and Medora, a harem girl, do end up together in the end, they are shipwrecked at sea and alone of all of their companions who have sunk to the bottomless depths. This is different from modern movies and novels that have taught us that love is only for those who can afford it, the perfect couple who seem to have no imperfections, or the most risque who only think about and with their bodies and not minds. This difference is also what makes the play unique – it makes love seem special again. I believe that 21st-century kids who were are not accustomed to this would take interest in pieces such as Le Corsaire because it fills them with a longing for what they would like to have, but can not seem to get just quite right.


One thing that rings true throughout the halls of history and society’s changes is that people love to dance. It has told stories and even preserved cultures. The thing that makes ballet dancing special is its structure – the way the ladies fly and how the gentlemen leap – which makes us feel as if we’re watching living dolls that need no control. Dance has changed in modern times, though. Today’s dance movement is convoluted and contorted like a plaything in people’s hands, shifting and switching until we find its “right” form and eventually, ours. Overall, today’s expressions of how we feel with our feet often involve very vivacious movements as if we are at a wild party rather than a performance. It is that ancient essential of integrity and gracefulness that we lack, and by viewing ancient stories, we regain that grace and beauty. The dancers in the show are acting out a story, and without words, they have to be able to transform their movements into the ultimate performance. In Le Corsaire, every scene had a relevant dance. For example, the fight scene between Conrad and Medora’s capturers consisted of a sword sequence where the opposing sides advanced and then leaped, mimicking a battle between the two. Again, it is that old-style way we want to see.

 

The reason why a ballet such as this is still enjoyed by today’s audiences is because it has inherited an air of elegance in its love story and its dance that stands in contrast to today’s culture. But I wonder what  if the opposite were true? What if, by some miracle or catastrophe, the people of old were able to view our dances and how we perceive love? Just something to think about.


Alain Sto Domingo
Academy at Palumbo High School
Class of 2020

On March 11, 2017 the Pennsylvania Ballet performed Le Corsaire, or The Pirate as it is known in English, an old ballet based on a wonderful poem written by Lord Byron. While it may be confusing as to how the overall plot plays out and how the story is told due to the complexity of the story itself, having a simple synopsis of the plot at hand is quite handy. However, even without reading a synopsis or summary of the story during the ballet performance or let alone beforehand, the performance itself is still quite a spectacle to behold and simply take in. Le Corsaire falls under the genres of romance and drama as it is a story of intense conflict and a conquest for love. It is a beautifully choreographed ballet performance that is staged in three acts. The overall plot and storyline is very well transformed and translated into the language of ballet, with each portion of the story being portrayed as a beautiful, complex, and incredible set of dance moves that correspond with and tell the story.


The entire ballet expressed a great deal of beauty and came off to be very eye-catching indeed. The aesthetics and staging of the entire set gave the performance quite the personality and made the dancers stand out. Aside from that, the dancers costumes and overall appearance also stood out greatly and was very appealing to the eye. Those two aspects of the dancers combined made scenes really mean something and expressed a lot of feeling in the process. The props used were very simple yet gave fight scenes, dramatic scenes, or even romantic scenes the extra amount of an authentic feeling. Swords and guns were used in order to really bring together a moment of intense conflict and the drugged flower expresses the conflict and drama in heavy serious moments. Even dream sequences of the ballet were portrayed beautifully. These dream sequences begin with the curtains dropping and the lights dimming implying a dream sequence along with a different set of decorations for the stage, thus bringing together the entirety of the scene. With the use of these props to express important scenes, the ballet really comes together beautifully. Furthermore, the dancing that took place upon the stage was absolutely a sight to behold for that the moves and footwork was extraordinary and so  captivating in every sort of aspect imaginable. What really is mesmerizing is how fluent and smoothly the dancing and footwork went, leaving the audience in a state of shock and awe.


Leaning away from some aspects and elements of the ballet, the experience of seeing the ballet was quite incredible because of every single moment of the ballet. Everything was in such beautiful sync, and the ballet was beautifully choreographed. Experience all comes down to seeing it first-hand and watching it all unfold before your very eyes. I haven’t ever been to a ballet as I never really had the opportunity nor was I particularly motivated to see one in the first place. However, seeing Le Corsaire, I was left absolutely stunned at the fact that I had enjoyed it to a great degree, and would be happy to go again in the future. In my head, I analyzed the ballet and matched every part to the story itself. Not only was everything practically accurate, but it was all done so elegantly and beautifully, right from the dancing to the presentation of the ballet in general. The experience was thrilling in every way one could imagine and it was definitely something that no one could ever forget.  

 

Jennifer Lu
Philadelphia High School for Girls
Class of 2018

Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges’s Le Corsaire, performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet on March 11, 2017, was a dramatic and emotional endeavor of the love and strife for two people of different status in society and those that oppose them. It is a splatter of intense scenes: fighting which portrayed the masculinity of men and flamboyant dances showcasing the beauty of women. The portrayal of such invigorating a tale was aided by the fantastic use of props throughout the ballet. The props added a sensual touch which drew me, and I dare say the entire audience, in as we watched this breathtaking performance.
The swords used as they fought gave a metallic shine, visible in all perspectives. The clang of the swords as they clashed impactfully called for attention.  The shots of the guns gave me a fright though I thought I was prepared as I had heard of these effects moments before settling in my seat. The flare of the gun resonated throughout the seats as Birbanto demanded recognition of not only the crew but also the entire audience. On several occasions, the performers transformed the stage itself into a prop as they slammed their hands down to the floor as they landed, conveying the importance of their cause.


The Pasha’s character expresses an extravagant lifestyle as he is portrayed as plump man draped in glamourous clothing made of rich looking fabrics. The parasols at his beck and call were a splendid array of color, pleasant to the eyes as they gave a simple and neat contrast to each other and the pasha’s garb. His cane, embellished with jewels and gold, gave him a prosperous and authoritative aura. In spite of his extravagant costumes, the Pasha was used as comedic relief. As Medora playfully swiped his cane he reached for it with less than innocent intent. The cane provided a smooth transition allowing for Medora to dance around the stage as the pasha followed mindlessly, showing his lovestruck adoration of her beauty.


The Pasha dreams of the alluring women of his harem dancing to his amusement. This scene is a recital of excellently choreographed dances staring Medora and Gulnare, the swans amongst ducks. They danced distinctively as the other performers danced in a synchronized manner, complementing them. The use of props in this scene put further attention on Medora and Gulnare. The appearance of strange green hedges indicated Medora’s importance as they motioned towards her as she dances. The hedges held by the precious child dancers were placed down one by one as Medora gracefully stepped into them claiming her center standing.
The flower, a focal point of the play, represents not only Medora and Conrad’s undying love but also Birbanto’s traitorous plans. I had assumed this important prop would be a red rose but to my utter astonishment found it to be a pure white flower. The white stood out immensely and could be seen clearly by the audience.


The skillful use of props heightened the appeal of the performance as sounds and color were infused beautifully and realistically throughout the performance, and thus, for me they became an irreplaceable aspect of this performance of  a classic ballet.

 

Amira Sloan
Parkway Center City
Class of 2020

 

In Le Corsaire, as performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet on March 11, 2017, we follow the story of  a pirate named Conrad, his slave Ali, and his friend Birbanto as they sail towards Turkey. This ballet was based off The Pirate (1814) by Lord Byron. Since there is a lot going on in the  plot, the characters and setting changes, you can get a little confused. Familiarization with anything you can find, especially characters, as well as prior knowledge to me is a good way to follow the performance. A key component of the ballet was the costumes and the changes of costumes by each dancer as they served to guide the audience on the complex storyline.


In the opening act, a lot transpires in the story. It goes from one thing to another and without any clear signs you can get lost. In my opinion a simple way of keeping is up is paying attention to the costumes. The main characters, of course wear extravagant and detailed costumes. Conrad, who is a pirate sailing into a bazaar in Turkey, was dressed in all white with the top half of his attire decorated to show a rank of some importance. You can tell he has superiority over his crew. Conrad has that classic brute style you would expect but still has the beauty of a dancer. Medora is a slave girl being sold at the bazaar, and Conrad falls in love with her upon first sight.  Her costume had a big difference in appearance from the other slave girls. She was adorned in a matching set of gold and blue, you can tell she was once a princess. Her outfit compliments her beauty, and the dancing comes together with the story on stage. Other important characters like  the pasha, Gulnare, Lankendem, Ali and Birbanto, have their own unique style. Knowing who is who by their costumes as well as having a synopsis helps the audience keep up with the plot  and the dance itself.

Act two takes you to the Grotto, a new location where more drama unfolds. There were changes in costume, and the audience sees a more casual side of both of the lovers. Medora goes from a tutu fit for a queen, to more of a loose fitting wrap, light pink in color and somewhat see through like silk. This ties into the plot at this moment with the two being reunited in the place Conrad calls home. When you’re with the person you love and you are comfortable, a new side of you comes out. Medora is more active in this act, and to be involved in the battle she needs something that covers and that is light weight. The same is seen with Conrad’s outfit as the top is now plain white, no medals or gold or decoration to be seen. Of course the outfits of the dancers have to fit into the story and what is going on around them.

 

The first part of act three is set in a dreamland. As the pasha sleeps the night away he dreams of his bride to be, Medora, dancing among a flowery garden with Gulnare. The pasha, Gulnare and Medora all have new costumes. In these last scene you can also get another comparison between the two main female characters and the gypsies, who are background female roles. This doesn’t mean the lesser roles look cheap or don’t even come close. The gypsies wear  fancy outfits, telling us about their role. Even though they do not really dance or perform, they still look like they should, and their outfits are not as plain and simple as the unnamed slave girls or the female pirates from the earlier scenes. As a result of these distinguishing details, the audience is less likely to get lost in the plot or mix two people up.

My overall opinion is the show was lovely in every aspect. The dances were beautifully choreographed, they really made the plot come alive. The sets were more than I expected them to be. Even if it may be a simple setup you can tell they were going for accuracy. The costumes as well as the props were the two best parts. The costumes were beautiful and they helped me out a lot. There were scenes with life like guns that actually shot. The swords looked real asif you made one wrong move you were done for. The show is entertaining for all ages and a really fun thing to watch.

 


Raphael Keele
Northeast High School
Class of 2018

Le Corsaire, performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet on March 11th, portrays the story of two star-crossed lovers, going through an arduous journey to be together. This journey was portrayed by not only the ballet dancers, but the sets themselves which often helped aided the portrayal of the plot. The sets reinforce the plot because without the set and the props, the plot of the ballet is complex and difficult for the audience to follow.

In Act One it can be assumed that all of the characters are at a slave trade based on the festive set used to portray a bazaar. This elaborate creation on stage makes it easier to interpret the moves of the ballet dancers, and better understand the plot. Furthermore, the placement of the dancers also made it easy to pick out the characters. Based on the way that the characters were placed around Medora, it was easy to figure out that she was the main love interest.When the slave owner came out, many of the dancers dispersed, thus making it easier to figure out that he was the slave owner, based on his power over the other dancers.

In Act Two, the setting is a cave leading us to believe that this is a transitional stage in the journey based on the relaxed movement of the dancers, and the slowing down of the music. The set was especially beneficial in this scene because this was a pivotal point in the plot of the play where a duel is engaged between Conrad, Medora’s lover, and Birbanto, his comrade turned traitor. It is the moment where all of the slave girls are freed. This presents a new opportunity for Birbanto to capture Medora, and for the two star crossed lovers to escape. The use of the set, made it easier for the viewer to recognize that Conrad and Medora were in hiding from Birbanto. We can also see when the plot has made an even more drastic turn where Medora gives Conrad a flower, as a token for their love, but instead is confronted with brutal irony. The flower ends up putting Conrad to sleep, and Medora is recaptured by Birbanto’s shipmates. It is even more evident that Conrad is about to be killed by Birbanto, until he realizes how broken hearted he is that Medora is missing.

The use of the sets was best implemented during Act Three because there were many shifts in the settings. It is evident that they are at the Pasha’s palace solely because it emulated a colorful, exquisite, palace. The scene then transitions into the Pasha’s dream, because the Pasha is resting before the scene transitions. The set is also useful during the storm, because the set uses makeshift waves and the pitter patter of rain, flashing lights, and thundering sounds to create a storm. When the storm subsides the two are finally rejoiced at last.  

While it may seem that from reading this review, that the plot was easily discernable, the plot was not very apparent while watching it.  It helped to have read the synopsis of the ballet before the performance. Even so, the plot would be almost impossible to discern without the use of the sets, and the use of them was extremely important in strengthening the overall message of the play.

Joan Dartey
Central High School

Class of 2019


“The book is always better than the movie,” is a phrase commonly used by many. However, in the case of George Gordon Byron’s poem, The Corsair and the ballet Le Corsaire, as performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet on March 11, 2017, is the poem indeed better than the ballet? They are similar in certain aspects, and so naturally the audience can draw parallel between Le Corsaire and its basis The Corsair. They are both comprised of three parts, feature characters of the same name, and use a tremendous amount of nature in their imagery and symbolism. Learning about both, and watching the performance by the Pennsylvania Ballet, I was struck by how the plots of the poem and the ballet vary greatly.

 

The poem is initially set in the island of the pirates, where Conrad, and his wife Medora reside. Conrad eventually leaves with his crew of pirates, and sets out to steal the riches from Seyd, the pasha. Although he is able to free several enslaved women, he encounters a Pyrrhic victory, as many of his men die. During his raid, the pasha’s favorite slave girl, Gulnare, falls in love with Conrad, and by killing the Seyd, helps him return back to his island, with her in tow. There, he discovers that his wife, Medora has died, and although Conrad is alive physically, he is dead in spirit. The ballet begins with Conrad’s pirate crew making their way to a marketplace, where Conrad immediately falls in love with Medora, a beautiful slave girl.  The performers then present their love story, which essentially ends in the two being the only survivors of a storm, which kills Conrad’s crew and several other escapees of the pasha.

After watching the performance of Le Corsaire, it is evident that the ballet is indeed very loosely based off the poem. The poem features a more direct plot and clear structure, although several parts of the poem deserve serious analysis.  Also, Medora, the female lead of the ballet remains a passive beauty in both the poem and the ballet, but Gulnare, the heroine of the poem, rids herself of the damsel-in-distress stature. Both the poem and the ballet can be considered romantic tales.

The use of nature is strategically scattered throughout both mediums, ranging from seas and storms, to gardens and poisoned roses. The very first sentence of the poem describes “the glad waters of the dark blue sea,” a symbol to the boundless thoughts and free spirits of the pirates. The set of the ballet also captured the essence of Conrad and Medora’s love story, with her throwing the rose down at him to signify the reciprocation of her feelings towards him. However, a rose also serves as an obstruction of their love, when Conrad gets poisoned by a rose intended for Medora. The ballet’s ending also corresponds to its beginning, with the couple surviving a storm at sea, a testament of the strength of their love.

Distinct differences between their plots and characters does not deter from the quality of either the poem nor the ballet. The imagery, symbolism, and outstanding performances presented in both mediums make them something all audiences should familiarize themselves with.

 

Thamar Barthelemy
Northeast High School
Class of 2018

On March 11, 2017 I was able to witness the marvelous performance by the Pennsylvania Ballet of Le Corsaire by Angel Corella.  It was thrilling and kept me on the edge of my seat. Although there were many exhilarating parts of the show, the thing that stood out the most to was the impeccable storyline. The storyline was not only interesting and unique, but also provided a life lesson. It was unique because I have never seen a ballet performance that had any controversial issue such as slavery. It was interesting because it provided the classic tale of young love separated by circumstances told through choreography, music and acting by the ballet dancers.

The story was about a swashbuckling pirate name Conrad in search of treasure who becomes enamored with a slave girl name Medora. After falling in love with the girl, he sets her free, and seeks their happily ever after. Unfortunately they went through some obstacles while seeking for their happily ever after. One of the obstacles they faced was when Conrad tried to help Medora escape from where she was held captive. Before she was finally rescued a lot of fighting was required, but at the end, their determination to be together won. Another obstacle they faced was when they were on the boat to find a new life. Unfortunately a terrible storm happened and the boat sunk; Conrad and Medora were the only ones who survived because their love gave them hope and helped them to fight to stay alive. Although they went through some obstacles, they eventually gained their happily ever after.

For me, the main theme of Le Corsaire is that love conquers all and if it was meant to be it will be. In life you will go through many obstacles, but it is important not to forget about love. Love provides hope; hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. When Medora was a slave she felt sad and depressed, but after she fell in love with Conrad her whole personality changed. She felt there was hope and that she is not going to be a slave forever. This shows that an automatic amount of hope is gained by love. It is vital to not forget because without love our world would not exist. In the ballet performance the main characters went through trials, but they still had love for each other. The main characters were the only two that survived the storm, showing that if it was meant to be it will be.


Le Corsaire is a must see. It is a show that will entertain everyone in the family because of the thrilling actions and unforgettable theme. The word “impeccable” would not be enough to describe this amazing ballet performance.

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