ABT's "Le Corsaire" at The LA Music Center is a dazzling spectacle that has pirates, harem girls, romance, slaves, and a dream sequence with thirty or so beautiful ballerinas coming to life as a flower garden. It's also a tour de force of virtuosi solos for four men and two women. There's pomp and pageantry, with sets and costumes that bring the exotic beauty and mystery of the Middle East of "Scherazade" to life before our eyes. The choreography is by Konstantin Sergeyev after Petipa, with music by five different composers, to a story from Lord Byron.

Ethan Stiefel is the dashing pirate, Conrad. He and his troupe observe the goings on at Lankendem's slave bazaar. After the Pasha is brought in amid fanfare, on his sedan chair, the three Odalisques provide the first real taste of the scintillating dancing to come. One pauses briefly in her movements as if to accent particular phrasings. It's capped off with a pas de trois, before the Pasha waves them away.

Lankendem and Gulnare do a pas de deux. He lifts her over his head, and she does slow, sensuous turns. He does a leaping, twirling solo. He leaps, lays out almost flat on his back, and at the top rolls around on his back before landing. Gennardi Saveliev's Lankendem kicks off some of the most amazing male dancing I've seen. Xiomara Reyes' Gulnare pirouettes faster and faster until he lifts her and the Pasha buys her.

Medora is snatched away from Conrad, and when she's presented to the Pasha, he faints. Carlos Molina totally overplays this role everywhere. He's a complete buffoon, and it's the perfect foil to everything else that's going on. He falls all over himself and her. She teases as she's pulled back and forth between Conrad and him. Finally, Lankendem pulls her away from Conrad, haggles with the Pasha, who throws bags of money at him and takes her away, before Conrad sends his slave Ali to steal her back.

Act 2 is in Conrad's grotto. We have romance, mutiny, and betrayal, but it's first and foremost, a showcase for the athleticism of the principle dancers. It starts with a slow, lyrical pas de deux with Conrad and Medora. Birbanto confronts him, and there's a sharpness in the music and pantomime. The pirates bring in the loot to defuse it.

Conrad, Ali, and Medora do a sort of a pas de trois. They each lift and carry her, but they also break into their own dazzling solos. It gets to be like a competition of anything you can do, I can do better. Jose Manuel Carreño is simply stupendous as Ali. He spins, leaps, splits to the front, then to the back, then nonchalantly slides down to the floor. Conrad then takes the whole stage front to back, side to side in about five leaping splits. Ali comes back with leaping, deep back bends, arms and legs fully extended in dizzying backwards leaping rolls. Meanwhile Paloma Herrera's Medora does her own pirouettes before Conrad lifts her high in triumph.

Birbanto mutinies, Conrad defeats him, and slaps down a couple of his men. Conrad then rolls Medora over and around him, lifts her so her head is level with his, and her legs extend up and over both of them, then turns her and spins her around in his arms. She gives him the drugged rose and is confronted by hooded men. Birbanto grabs and tries to kiss her. She gives him a slap that's heard half way back in the orchestra section, then stabs his wrist, before being spirited away by Lankendem to the Pasha's.

The third act is one of lavish beauty. In the Pasha's palace we have beautiful ensembles of girls. In the Jardin Animée they hold garlands of flowers, undulating from side to side. The Odalisques do their solos. One kicks up and out front, then back, then up, all on point on one leg in the same sequence. It's an enchanting scene as they all come together in a mass of flowers and ballerinas.

The pirates disguised as pilgrims, spirit the Pasha's guards away. He's mystified, but accepts it. Back to the garden, the sensuality is at a fever pitch. The town is in the background, with the harbor and the ships all bathed in a faint lavender light. The stucco arches have lanky palms hanging down from their tops, and a bevy of exotically costumed ballerinas takes it to the edge. The pirates burst in and conquer in a wild dance of celebration. Medora shows Conrad Birbanto's wound, and Conrad shoots him dead. As the ship sails off, a wind machine heralds the storm. The sea rises up and completely engulfs it, before Medora and Conrad appear on a rock, a testament to their love.

If there were any doubts as to the superiority of talent at ABT, this "Le Corsaire" at The LA Music Center dispels it all. This company is spectacular. They had four extremely demanding lead roles, not to mention the Odalisques, and mangaged to bring out truly superior dancers in all of them. The corps was superbly prepared, and moved like clockwork. This is the third full-length ballet that ABT has performed in Southern California since December, and they'll be back in Orange County for the holidays with their "Nutcracker." Locally, West Coast Ballet has also featured ABT principals Susan Jaffee, Maxim Belotserkovsky, and Irina Dvorovenko for it's "Nutcracker," the last two years. With talk of a permanent ballet company moving into the Music Center after the Philharmonic leaves, dare we hope it will be ABT?



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