The full-length Le Corsaire is a ballet that few ballet dancers outside of Russia ever get to perform and few dance fans have seen, though the grand pas de deux from the ballet is one of the most famous in the world.
Taipei audiences have the chance to see it this weekend at the Metropolitan Hall for two performances only, in an abridged two-hour production by the Taipei Royal Ballet (台北皇家芭雷舞團).
Though French in origin and from some of the same minds who created Giselle, including the composer Adolphe Adam, Le Corsaire has had a very checkered history since its 1856 Paris Opera premiere (there were earlier ballets but without the staying power of the French version). It was kept alive in Russia, though repeatedly amended by the dance masters of the Imperial Ballet (the Kirov), including Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa and, much later, Agrippina Vaganova, as well as the Bolshoi Ballet.
Pepita and others also tinkered with the score, adding musical material by Leo Delibes, Richardo Drigo, Peter Tschaikovsky and others.
Few in the West remembered the ballet until Rudolph Nureyev restaged Le Corsaire Pax de Deux, turning it into ballet gala requirement.
It's hard to keep track of all the changes that have been made to this ballet, but its storyline is no less confusing, involving a shipwreck, pirates, kidnapped slave girls, a pasha's garden and was very loosely based on Lord Byron's 1814 epic, The Corsaire. The plot doesn't matter anyway because it doesn't make much sense. You just need to remember the main characters are Conrad, a pirate who falls in love with Medora, a kidnapped Greek girl, who is helped by Gulnare, a slave girl.
Not afraid of challenges, Taipei Royal Ballet director and prima ballerina Wu Ching-yin decided two years ago to tackle Le Corsaire.
What: Le Corsaire
When: Tomorrow and Sunday at 7:30pm
Where: Metropolitan Hall (城市舞台), 25, Bade Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市八德路三段25號)
Tickets: NT$300, NT$600, NT$800, NT$1,000 and NT$1,200; available at
"I have guts," Wu said in an interview. "I had never seen the full-length ballet, so I did the research, got the music from the St Petersburg Radio Station Orchestra and the Boston Ballet orchestra, and stared working."
That was two years ago, after Wu wrapped up her company's Don Quxiote. Like others who have staged the ballet, Wu tinkered with the choreography, "to make the male parts even bigger, the steps more demanding."
"The biggest challenge was unfamiliarity with the whole ballet's music. You have to see what parts you like, what you want to change," she said.
Given that many people now associate the word pirate with the Disney movie franchise, Wu felt free to expand her choice of costumes.
"The costumes are more movie-like, more Johnny Depp, less ballet," she laughed.
Dancing the role of Conrad to Wu's Medora is her partner and fiance, Hong Kang-jie (洪康捷), who said the pirate role was demanding because of the level of technique required.
"Ching is a very good partner, a very good dancer, so that makes it easy," he said, adding that he didn't have trouble portraying a pirate because "I'm a wild person, so it's easy to feel the part."
Two years is a long time to work on one production, but Wu said she needed to bring her dancers in her six-year old company up to the level needed for the ballet. It was also hard because not everyone could attend rehearsals at the same time, so she had to teach each section over and over again.
"I've been working the last two years for these two performances because I believe in quality. I'm so overworked, two performances is enough for me," Wu said, referring to the difficulty of maintaining classical ballet standards in a country known for its modern dancers, and in running a company while teaching ballet at the Taipei National University of the Arts and the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.