Last year disaster struck the Colón´s Ballet Season when a prolonged conflict between the Ballet and the theatre´s director Pedro Pablo García Caffi led to the cancellation of the subscription series. One of the obstacles was the absence of a decent dancing floor. At the start of this year, after denying the need for it and the existence of dancers with lesions, García Caffi caved in and bought two Harlequin floors. The corps de ballet pronounced it acceptable, and although big problems remain unanswered, dancers are happy to be back on stage and are trying to give their best, with reasonable success.
“The Corsair”, a famous ballet with a long history, was supposed to be back in the repertoire last year, and in fact the new production was ready. This season, with no subscriptions (at the start of the year both orchestras were on strike), “The Corsair” was reprogrammed.
Lord Byron wrote “The Corsair” in 1814, a typically Romantic text. Joseph Mazilier, long-time “maître de ballet” of the Paris Opera, made this full-length work in 1855 on an adapted scenario by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, and premiered it on January 23, 1856. The music was by the author of “Giselle”, Adolphe Adam. When the ballet was revived in 1867, Mazilier made some changes and asked Léo Delibes (author of “Coppélia”) to provide some new music (the “Pas des fleurs”). But another version was concocted by Jules Perrot in Russia, based on the original by Mazilier; there were musical interpolations by Cesare Pugni. Perrot´s Conrad (the Corsair) was Marius Petipa, who in 1880 presented his own version, modified in 1899, and with new musical interpolations by Riccardo Drigo (the famous “pas de deux”, often seen and heard here in ballet galas). Much later, in the 1950s, Piotr Gusev added in his choreography still more music, by Ludwig Minkus and by Prince Peter of Oldemburg (cousin of Czar Nicholas I), and changed the scenario with Yuri Slonimsky´s help. This version was premiered in 1955 and presented at the Colón in 1999. Finally, we now got to know Anne-Marie Holmes´ version, based on a later version by a Russian choreographer unidentified in the otherwise excellent programme notes by Enrique Destaville.
And out of this puzzle, what has come out? An agreeable, not very dramatic, often humorous concoction with plenty of brilliant choreographic passages, without any attempt (and I agree) to make it “contemporary”. This is the version that Paloma Herrera danced with Julio Bocca years ago, and now she was Medora, whilst her Conrad was the Canadian Guillaume Côté. There were three casts and I write on the first. Paloma, now 35, is a very accomplished artist of remarkable consistency over the years, and so she was again, although I have always felt in her some lack of poetry. Côté was a very good partner, even if in this choreography some plum bits are given to his sidekick Ali, brilliantly danced by Juan Pablo Ledo. Two other artists were outstanding: the refined Silvia Perillo as Gulnara, and the elegant Federico Fernández as Lankedem, the slave trader. The Pasha was mimed funnily by Marcelo Antelo. Others who danced well were Edgardo Trabalón, Maricel De Mitri and Natalia Pelayo. The Corps de ballet was generaly accurate and disciplined, especially the ladies in the “Animated Garden” scene, and the dynamic pirates.
The Buenos Aires Philharmonic played very well this light and agreeable music under the expert conducting of Hadrián Ávila Arzuza. Apart from some kitschy details, I liked very much the production, with splendid stage designs by Christian Prego, fine and varied costumes by Aníbal Lápiz and resourceful lighting by Roberto Oswald.
Most ballet “habitués” have seen Delibes´ “Coppélia” though the decades, for this is the best French ballet of the nineteenth-century along with “Giselle”. But the change of title at the Argentino, “Coppelius the magician”, intimated that Marcia Haydée´s choreography would be innovative. Indeed, she has changed the plot deeply and put Coppelius rather than Swanilda as the protagonist. As time passed during the performance I saw (fourth and last of the run), I became convinced that she has aimed at the children (which were numerous in the audience), corresponding to the Christmas season (her version was supervised by Pablo Aharonian). She has cut most of the Third Act (no big loss dramatically, for it is mostly a divertissement) and put the accent on a world of gypsies (First Act) and gnomes (the latter in the Second Act yelling and covering the often subtle music). And she has added some music from “Sylvia” (a splendid Delibes ballet shamefully neglected in our midst). What I disliked was the portrait of Franz (Swanilda´s suitor) as boorish and over-insistent. But otherwise a lot was fresh and humoristic, with interesting dance steps.
Coppelius in this version is young, charismatic; the part was very well taken by Bautista Parada. Franz was danced by Benjamín Parada (are they kin?), fleet and accomplished as a dancer but much too mincing in his gestures. Julieta Paul was a charming Swanilda. Esteban Schenone was a lithe and humoristic Zimmo (dream gnome), Juan Manuel Ortiz was a strong Gypsy and Elizabeth Antúnez was beautiful and sensitive as the Fairy of Love. The big ensembles went well with young, agile dancers doing their parts with enthusiasm and accuracy. The Orchestra played nicely under the accomplished conducting of Carlos Calleja. The effective stage designs were the joint debut of Lucas Borzi, Martina Urruty and Santiago Duarte; Gonzalo Giacchino did the imaginative costumes, and Rubén Conde lighted the proceedings with a fine touch.