Skylar Brandt made a surprise debut as Medora in Monday evening’s performance of Le Corsaire due to Maria Kochetkova’s injury. Like a few of the other young soloists at American Ballet Theatre, Brandt has been getting some plum roles recently and she has made a strong impression. Notably, she got the titular role in Ratmansky’s brilliant creation, The Golden Cockerel, a part in which she excels. There’s plenty to like in her dancing. She’s strong and fast, she punctuates her phrases decisively, and she has a keen sense of musicality. Her most striking aspect, the one that everyone notices, is her large eyes which read effectively far out into the audience. She is vibrantly expressive and fun to watch. Over the last year, Brandt has grown considerably as a performer and in this debut, she owned the stage with authority. There was complete assurance in her movement and there’s no doubt that she’s a bona fide contender for a future slot as a principal dancer. The show was full of great dancing on all accounts so Brandt was well supported and there are plenty of accolades to go around.

Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin in <i>Le Corsaire</i> © MIRA
Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin in Le Corsaire

The story of Le Corsaire is convoluted (even for ballet) and the music feels heavily recycled with snippets that were culled from other works. No less than five composers are credited and that’s seldom a good thing. The slaves are so cheerful that you wonder why they would ever want their freedom and the pirates’ costumes look like bellboy outfits. This is one of those ballets where you have to shrug and say, “hey, what do you want? It’s ballet! Forget about it!” On the other hand, Le Corsaire has tons of dancing and plenty of opportunities to show off. Sarah Lane was radiant as Gulnare. She’s a wonderful dancer who should already be a principal. She was a great partner for Daniil Simkin who played Lankendem, the slave trader. Their first act pas de deux was faultless. Simkin showed off his dizzying array of tricks to the delight of the crowd. In a sense, he’s become a victim of his own technical achievement. Every time he does his tendu-plié preparation, it looks like he’s slacking if he doesn’t pull off at least eight pirouettes. That’s too bad because he’s a fine comedian and a beautifully lyric dancer. The trio of Cassandra Trenary, Catherine Hurlin and Katherine Williams made a wonderful set of odalisques. Trenary stands out in everything she does, moving with her trademark fluidity. I always find myself surprised with how well she does the little things like the way she moves her head. She turns small movements into something notable when you realize that no one else does it quite the same or as well.

Herman Cornejo played Conrad the Pirate with the requisite swagger and did plenty of showing off. He and Brandt are not an ideal match height-wise but they fit well enough and there was more spark there than I saw between Cornejo and Kochetkova in Don Quixote. In the second act, they were terrific in the pas de trois with Jeffrey Cirio as Ali, the slave. More bravura showing off ensued with Cirio winning handily but Brandt made it clear that she belonged. In another tour de force, Roman Zhurbin was epic as the bumbling Pasha Seyd. He makes every character part he does into a starring role. The third act goes all over the place. There’s a dream sequence full of darling little ballerinas waving garlands and it ends, finally, with a shipwreck with only Conrad and Medora as survivors. We never find out what happened to Ali, Gulnare or the rest of the pirate crew but that’s life at the ballet.

Le Corsaire will never crack my top ten favorite ballets but these dancers made it a fun evening. With talent like this they could do ballet class on stage and I would enjoy watching them. It’s a rollicking production that gives a lot of dancers an opportunity to shine and I appreciated the rare opportunity to see a young dancer make an important debut. Brava, Skylar Brandt.