When it comes to gender roles, Le Corsaire is anything but modern. The female characters are passed from pasha to pirate and back again, and they do little else than dance for the men—whether those men are good or evil, lover or foe. (With the ballet's excessively convoluted plot, it's often hard to tell). In “Jardin Animée," the second scene of Act III, Medora, Gulnare and the other enslaved women dance charmingly in the pasha's dream—all smiles, flowers and cotton candy colors. Former American Ballet Theatre principal Paloma Herrera performs Gulnare's variation in this clip from ABT's 1999 PBS special, and her usual power and precision shine through. Just look at her dynamic, buoyant tombés into quick, trilling bourrées; her darting feet in simple jetés and the control she maintains during the ending's dizzying turns. I find myself rewinding every few seconds, just to watch each step's exacting execution.
In the PBS special, ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie jokingly admits to the ballet's slightly absurd plot, its “politically incorrect attitudes" and its “over the top performance values." However, he says, “with its variety of roles, [Le Corsaire] offered incredible opportunities for virtuoso dancing," which Herrera and other ABT stars have in abundance. In the ballet's story, true love prevails, but it's the truly spectacular dancing (which we're sure to see at ABT this spring) that earns standing ovations. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!