In his farewell performance with American Ballet Theatre Ethan Stiefel dances an exquisite LE CORSAIRE.
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Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
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ABT closed out its 2012 Summer Season in spectacular fashion with an unforgettable farewell performance by Ethan Stiefel.
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At its end, an avalanche of company members, friends, and colleagues regaled Stiefel with hugs, kisses, wreathes, and bouquets stacked high on the floor–confetti blasts from above, applause and more applause. His loyal fans from NYCB days to present, all gathered in appreciation.
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It was a rousing tribute to this American-born virtuoso from nearby Pennsylvania; his professionalism and panache were underscored by his adroit and graceful handling of the numerous bows of gratitude and thank you’s that lasted for more than a half-hour, and eventually became a quasi-dance unto itself.
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Stiefel danced Ali, the loyal slave and friend to Conrad, the pirate, performed by the formidable Marcelo Gomes. Conrad has a larger role in this narrative ballet, but in The Corsaire Pas de Duex in Act 11 both team up and dance with Medora (Gillian Murphy), the beautiful slave girl and love interest of Conrad. Here, Stiefel brings fire and electricity with his soaring leaps and bravura lifts in this often performed piece, but again made new, expressive, and profoundly powerful.  It was a “wow” delivery that extracted every scintilla of spirit he could summon for this special evening.  Stiefel was saying farewell, but at heart was saying thank you to his loyal audience. He soared as high as ever, partnered Medora as sturdy, strong and manly as a body could; turned fast and sure, and added embellishments and accents for more excitement.  This is exactly what the role called for and he delivered magnificently.
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Photos by Rosalie O’Connor

Le Corsaire has been with us since 1859, but has a genealogy going back to the beginning of that century; it has an extremely varied history of transformations in aspects of music, choreography, staging, and librettos. Originally based on a poem by Lord Byron “The Corsaire,” (1814), Marius Petipa revised it himself many times during his lifetime, and is credited, along with Konstantin Sergeyev, on the definitive version. With all this fiddling, a work of art usually has no chance of succeeding–imagine Hamlet, or the Scottish Play being rewritten a dozen times in different eras.  But here, this Le Corsaire is coherent, fluid and wildly entertaining

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Staged by Anna Maria-Holmes, after the original, the stage is filled with fireworks from beginning to end, and is replete with romance, humor, and exotic locale.  The music is an eclectic mix with individual dances composed by a plethora of composers of the day:  Adolphe Adam, Cesare Pugni, Leo Delibes, Riccardo Drigo, and Prince Oldenbourg.  Each of the acts has its on overture, and each act has a memorable dance, oftentimes performed as individual pieces:
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Act 1      Pas de Esclave
              Odalisques
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Act 11    Corsaire Pas De Duex
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Act 111   Jardin Anime
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Le Corsaire is about Conrad, and his band of brigands.  They appear at a slave auction at a bazaar in Adrianopli, Turkey and witness Lankendem, owner of the bazaar, auctioning the women to Seyd, Pasha of the Isle of Cos. Conrad sees Medora, a beautiful slave and falls in love with her. A fight ensues between the groups and Conrad and his men kidnap all the slave women, as well as Lankendem, to their island hideaway.
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At the grotto, Medora pleads with Conrad to set the Greek slaves free, and he complies. But Birbanto, his fellow pirate, wants the women for himself and tries to kill Conrad.  Conrad defeats the mutiny. Now Birbanto colludes with Lankendem against Conrad, and devise a scheme to present Conrad with a sleeping potion disguised in flowers and presented unwittingly by Medora.  The plan works, Conrad in incapacitated, and Birbanto and Lankendem return to the Pasha’s Palace with the women.  As they depart, Medora stabs Birbanto in the arm.  Conrad awakens and gives chase.
In Act 111, after the sumptuous dream scene, “Le Jardin Anime,” Conrad arrives. The Pasha wants to marry Medora so a plan is devised where Medora’s friend Gulnare, disguises herself as Medora, and the Pasha mistakenly places the ring on the wrong girl.  Conrad arrives kills Birbanto, and again escapes with his love.
As they sail away, strong seas scuttle their galleon, and Conrad and Medora are saved clinging to rocks, but together at last.
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In the famous “Jardin ” scene, the dance becomes an entire act unto itself, and is frequently performed as a stand alone piece.  It’s a beautiful dream scene, a dream where the robust and lascivious Pasha dreams of other-worldy delights. Earthy and sensual, with fountains, flowers, and dancing women it becomes a virtual heavenly oasis. As he dreams, Medora and Gularne dance in the garden with the multicolored maids–12 in pink tutus, 6 in yellow, 6 in champangne, and eight children from SAB dressed in lime green. Its a feast of graceful musicality, commanding and delicate, with delightful groupings and variations, textured with evocative music.
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It was Ethan’s night, but Gillian Murphy had a giant evening as well as Medora.  Always confident, attacking, and reliable, she became a perfect partner for Stiefel, who has the same approach to dance–both create lightning. You never see Murphy not prepared, nor ready to give her all, its part of her essence. Both have great ability, and both are fast and strong. Murphy shines best in her solos when she has turns of any sort, she relishes them. Fast and definite!  Nothing can stop her fouette pirouettes from reaching a crescendo of  controlled energy.  For Stiefel’s night, both Gomes and Murphy brought out their best talents; Gomes also uncanny in his professionalism and passion. What a group!
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Good luck in New Zealand, Mr Stiefel, and perhaps as he stated, this is just a “boxers” retirement. He’ll no doubt always be welcomed back in New York.