Le Corsaire: An oriental and poetic ballet from Manuel Legris! The new season at Polish National Opera

Tumultuous and full of unheard-of adventures, the love story of Conrad and Medora served as a basis for numerous ballet adaptations

by Cherciu Lavinia
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Le Corsaire, an oriental and poetic ballet from Manuel Legris returns on the stage of at Polish National Opera, on 30 September.  Photo: Wienner Staatsballett, by Ashley_Taylor

Full of vicissitudes and extraordinary adventures, the love story of Conrad and Medora, described by George Byron in the oriental poetic novel Corsair (1814), stimulated the imagination of successive generations of readers.

The story became the basis for numerous ballet adaptations, of which the French version choreographed by Joseph Mazilier and with the music of Adolphe-Charles Adam, the author of the famous romantic ballet Giselle, was the most frequently played and reworked.

A few years ago Le Corsaire was revisited by French choreographer and director of the Wiener Staatsballett, Manuel Legris. It returns on Polish National Opera stage on 30 September

Also read 

Manuel Legris, Director Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company: “All ballet companies have their own history and identity”

Torinodanza Festival 2021 comes back to live with two months of modern dance, from 3 September to 29 October


Le Corsaire offers a kaleidoscope of exotic attractions: a pirate ship, dancing slave girls and a rebellion and abduction in a harem

Le Corsaire is a ballet in three acts with a prologue and an epilogue. Libretto: Manuel Legris and Jean-François Vazelle after George Byron, Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier. Premiere of this production was on 20 March 2016 on the stage of Wiener Staatsballett. Polish premiere of this production was on 17 September 2020, at Polish National Ballet.

The rigorous lexicon of classical ballet – a “gesture book” rather than “wordbook” – is sure to bring ornithological associations to a layperson’s mind. Not only because the most iconic and recognizable classical ballet sequence is the “White Act” from Swan Lake. (By the way, the dancers look actually more like herons or flamingos, than swans.)

The key thing here is the “bird-like” quality of the dance technique, which has men jerking up their legs in mid-air and women quivering their feet, walking on the tips of their toes, spinning and turning, channeling bird mating rituals and at the same time expressing one of the oldest longings of the human kind: the desire to fly. Whereas Italian is the language of classical opera and classical music in general, French has dominated traditional ballet terminology.

Based on George Byron’s tale, the libretto of Le Corsaire offers a kaleidoscope of exotic adventures and attractions: a pirate ship, dancing slave girls, rebellion and abduction in a harem, alpha males fighting over a beautiful Greek lady… illustrated with the last piece ever written by Adolphe Adam, who died a few months after the opening night.

Originally staged for the Wiener Staatsballett, the production is a real treat for everybody who loves the ballet tradition.

Le Corsaire has been seen on the stage of the Polish National Opera in the Viennese version of Manuel Legris

The Corsair of Mazilier and Adam, a ballet-pantomime in three acts, premiered in 1856 at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra in Paris, and a year later it was played at the Grand Theater in Warsaw in an adaptation by Roman Turczynowicz, where it enjoyed enormous popularity, similarly as in the whole of Europe.

In Russia, Marius Petipa performed Korsarza at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, also taking Mazilier’s choreography as a basis.

Five years ago, the French choreographer Manuel Legris, director of Wiener Staatsballett presenting his original neoclassical work in Vienna. Legris, who for many years was a soloist of the Paris Opera and a favorite of Rudolf Nuriejew himself, admits that the Corsair, although it was created for Paris, has not been played there for a long time. In present Manuel Legris holds the Artistic Director of the Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company title.

ATTENTION! Every audience member who enters the opera house must submit their health declaration. Holders of opera, ballet and concert tickets may submit their health declarations online not earlier than 48 hours before the curtain-up. You may also complete the health declaration form in hardcopy and return it to one of the drop boxes set up by the ticket check. Audience members attending educational events, workshops, or exhibitions must complete their health declarations in hardcopy and return them to one of the drop boxes set up by the ticket check.

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