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Ballet Review: Le Corsaire, English National Ballet

20/01/2014 14:09 GMT | Updated 20/03/2014 09:59 GMT

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Le Corsaire (the pirate) is a bright, upbeat ballet, unlike the more popular but tragic ballets such as Swan Lake, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet. And this version of this rarely performed piece of work is packed full of talent and energy.

Its premise is simple. Conrad, the pirate, sets out across the seas to the Ottoman Empire to rescue his love, Medora, from the clutches of the slave trader who wants to sell her on to Pasha, a wealthy Seyd.

The performance I saw had Tamara Rojo, the Artistic Director of the English National Ballet and one of the most famous ballerinas of her generation performing as Medora. Though (whisper it quietly) she will be 40 this year, her performance, her technical excellence remain an honour and privilege to watch.

And she has such personality as well as such talent. Rojo's Medora was bright, captivating, a teasing presence on the stage as she played and mocked Pasha, the wealthy man holding her captive.

The exquisite Tamara Rojo is obviously a massive box-office draw. But though the crowds will turn up to see this star, they will also witness the birth of another.

Junor Souza, a young dancer from Brazil, performed as Ali, Conrad's devoted slave. The ballet demands a lot from its male performers but Souza's performance was breath-taking. His leaps were athletic but graceful. His performance was full of such verve, such presence, that the audience was cheering from halfway through his solo performances.

Though few of us knew his name at the start of the show, it was on everyone's lips at the close. At the curtain call, the cheers for Souza were as loud as those for Rojo. He is unequivocally a star on the rise.

Conrad was performed by the brilliant and dashing Matthew Golding, perfect casting as the hero of the tale. His performance too was energetic and bold. It really was a feast of talent on the stage. As Artistic Director, Rojo has drawn so much talent to the English National Ballet. And the talent is not confined to the performers.

The sets and costumes were designed by Bob Ringwood, a Hollywood veteran from Batman, Empire of the Sun and the Alien films. The costumes dazzle in texture and variety - embellished tutus, jewelled harems pants and feathered headpieces. And the sets are imbued with the feel of the Orient with bustling bazaars and ornate palaces.

However the production is not without risk. Issues of historic sexual harassment dominate the headlines at the moment, with Rolf Harris and Dave Lee Travis currently in focus. That does make the portrayal of Pasha as a dirty old man who likes to ogle and grope the young women in the harems a challenge but a light-hearted self-effacing characterisation from Michael Coleman just about worked.

Overall, an evening watching Le Corsaire was an absolute pleasure. It is a bright, refreshing alternative to the dramatic and tragic major ballets and a risk that, in the hands of these talented creatives, pays off.

Coliseum, London To January 19, 2014

Palace Theatre, Manchester February 11-15, 2014