American Ballet Theatre’s ‘Le Corsaire’ at The Kennedy Center by Carolyn Kelemen

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American Ballet Theatre puts on a swashbuckling show at the Kennedy Center

The American Ballet Theatre, currently dancing at the Kennedy Center, turned 75 in 2012, which is a remarkable achievement no matter how you look at it. To establish a ballet company in a country with no native ballet tradition is an amazing feat. To survive three quarters of a century while upholding a reputation for quality is awesome.

Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Photo by Gene Schiavone.

For any individual ABT dancer, however, time is short. Youth and talent fuse intensely but briefly in the universe of ballet to produce bright stars who reach heights long before artists in other fields. As the late great song-and-dance man, Gene Kelly, bluntly said in a TV commercial, “Dancers only have a few years to show their stuff…but what wonderful years they are.”

These were my thoughts watching young, spirited dancers perform in Anna-Marie Holmes rendition of the 1856 warhorse ballet, Le Corsaire. The swashbuckling ballet – yes, it’s silly but who cares about the plot when you can see a handsome lad fly through the air with ease and aplomb – continues at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House through Sunday evening. And do bring the kids as last night they were mesmerized by the pirates, slaves, and, yes, gun shots fired on stage.

As I watched ABT’s youthful-looking principal Herman Cornejo perform the  role of the slave, I couldn’t help but think of this dynamic international dancer as a shooting star in the ballet heavens. In just a few short years, this Argentinian firecracker has emerged as the one to-go-to when you need bravura dancing.

Cornejo is just one of several new stars (and soon-to-be-stars along with some older stars) who are slated to perform in this revival at the Kennedy Center. In the opening last evening, Marcelo Gomes and Paloma Herrera danced the famous pas de deux from the ballet. He was especially tender in the way he carried her high above her head, then caught her in the “fish dive” that always brings a sigh. She, in turn, has the unique ability to draw in the music and perform the variation first legato, then whipping off nearly 32 foutees (turns on one foot) and triple pirouettes flawlessly.

Katherine Williams in 'Le Corsaire.'  Photo by Marty Sohl.
Katherine Williams in ‘Le Corsaire.’ Photo by Marty Sohl.

Nonetheless, last night’s favorite couple was  Sascha Radetsky and Stella Abrera. As the bazaar owner who brought in young maidens for the pasha, Radetsky took a shine to his special find (Abrera), his wife in real life. While she was tender in her variations, he was brutal, often flying across the stage in those leaps made famous by other ABT stars, Baryshnikov and Nureyev. Radetsky doesn’t just dance the role; he stalks it.

In noted secondary roles, Skylar Brandt and April Giangeruso, stand out in the Women in Red variation and part of the harem who add character dancing and chorus line beauty. Once again Katie Williams glowed on stage, this time as a flower girl. Young dancers from the Maryland Youth Ballet complemented ABT’s corps de ballet.

Boasting 120 performers, Le Corsaire is a fairytale on stage filled with dashing pirates, flower-laden heroines, daring abductions, and dramatic rescues. Based on a narrative poem by Lord Byron, Le Corsaire features a musical score, contributed by five composers, a mix of styles that adds to the ballet. Conductor Ormsby Wilkins keeps the dancers on their toes with his brisk but sensitive handling of the score. Christian Prego’s scenic design, Roberto Oswald’s lighting design, and Anbal Lapiz’s costumes emphasize the frivolity of the ballet, adding to this fun evening at the ballet.

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with two 20-minute intermissions.

American Ballet Theatre performs Le Corsaire tonight at 7:30 p.m. through Sunday (matinee and evening) at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, ranging in price from $25 – $109)  call (800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.