Le Corsaire is a ballet typically presented in three acts, with a libretto originally created by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and loosely based on Lord Byron’s poem The Corsair. Originally choreographed by Joseph Mazilier to the music of Adolphe Adam, it was first presented by the ballet of the Théatre Imperérial de l’Opéra in Paris on Jan. 23, 1856.
All modern productions of Le Corsaire are derived from the revivals staged by ballet master Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg throughout the mid to late 19th century.
The ballet has many celebrated passages which are often extracted from the full-length work and performed independently: the scene Le jardin animé, the Pas d’esclave, the Pas de trois des odalisques, and the so-called Le Corsaire pas de deux, which is among classical ballet’s most famous and performed excerpts.
Le Corsaire was created primarily for the talents of the famous Italian ballerina Carolina Rosati, who was then the Opéra’s reigning prima. The role of Conrad—which contained no dancing in Mazilier’s original staging—was created by the Italian Domineco Segarelli. Although he was an accomplished dancer, it was Segarelli’s abilities as mime artist that won him the many roles he created on the stage of the Opéra. It would not be until many years later that the role of Conrad included any dancing.
The ballet was first staged in Russia for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg by Jules Perrot, the renowned ballet master of the romantic ballet, who served as premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres from 1849 until 1858.
In March 1858, Marius Petipa was dispatched to mount Jules Perrot’s version of Le Corsaire for the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre (known now as the Bolshoi Ballet), who continued performing the ballet with some regularity for many years in various revivals. In 1888 Petipa supervised the creation of a new production of Le Corsaire for the company, which premiered to a resounding success.
In 1894 the Bolshoi Theatre’s newly appointed Ballet Master Ivan Clustine mounted his staging of Le Corsaire, which premiered on March 22, 1894. Petipa would later allege that Clustine’s production apparently stole much of his own choreography, particularly for the scene Le jardin animé.
In 1912 Alexander Gorsky premier maître de ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre—presented his revival of Le Corsaire. For this revival Gorsky supervised a substantially revised edition of Adam’s score that included a myriad of new dances.
The airs of such composers as Edvard Grieg, Anton Simon, Reinhold Gliere, Kari Goldmark, Fréderic Chopin, Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Antonin Dvorak were fashioned into dansante accompaniment for new scenes, pas, variations, and the like.
Among the most notable scenes added by Gorsky was a dream sequence set to a Nocturne by Chopin, in which the character Medora dreams of her beloved Conrad.
Another interpolation of note was a divertissement for Turkish, Persian and Arabian slave-women that took place during the scene in the bazaar of the first act. Even with the production’s large number of interpolated pieces, Gorsky chose to retain many of the additional pas as included in the ballet by Mazilier and Petipa.
Gorsky’s revival of Le Corsaire remained in the repertory of the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre until 1927. Although the company regularly performed extracts from Le Corsaire for many years thereafter, the full-length work was not given again until Konstantin Sergeyev staged his version for the company in 1992
On 21 June 2007 the Bolshoi Ballet presented a lavish revival of Le Corsaire, utilizing the choreographic notation of the Sergeyev Collection, as well as materials found in the France’s national library, the Bakhrushin Theatre and the St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music.
Le Corsaire runs at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 11 at the Salmar Classic. Tickets are $22 for adults and $11 for youths and are available at the Salmar Grand.