BALLET ‘Le Corsaire’ by English National Ballet@The London Coliseum, St.Martin’s Lane to 24th January. 5 Stars! Flesh made Furiously Fluent! ★★★★★
What West End Wendy doesn’t love theatre? Ah, but even more than musicals, there’s one art-form that ticks every box possible for even the most fastidious Art Queens – ballet. A stunning riot of physical beauty and athletic excellence, ballet’s also drenched with gorgeous, OTT sets and costumes and pumping, life-affirming, musical scores.
So what’s not to like? Frankly, a fully-staged production, invariably held in the sprawling magnificence of a top-notch theatre, is like waking in a resurrected drag queen’s Paradise!
And that’s completely the case with the English National Ballet’s newest production of ‘Le Corsaire’, an epic sprawl of slavery, piracy and opium delights. Lavishly adapted from Lord Byron’s eponymous poem, the show’s a thrilling, non-stop juggernaut of pure joy.
So it should be. Ballet, arguably, is the most potent expression available of a total gay aesthetic, the male body as complete focus and expressive vehicle of raw artistry.
And yes, judged by modern, ethically-constipated standards, the show’s a complete, non-PC nightmare, but sorry, art history – and classic theatre – persists without reductive trigger warnings. Simply, pre-PC theatre is what it is, and it’s pointless trying to awkwardly shoe-horn previous world-views into retrospective tokenism.
Indeed, there’s just one, vital quality any ballet newbie must surrender to – suspension of disbelief. Whatever your moral or ethical qualms regarding story or subject matter, just lay back and think of excess, and let pure spectacle pour all over you.
And for ‘Le Corsaire’, that spectacle’s the Middle East, but not remotely as we know it. Forget ISIS and shrill jihad incitements – this is a hot, humid, hashish-smoker’s dream. Routinely fetishised by 19th Century poets and painters as an endless Niagara of jewels, furs, opium and easy sex, this Middle East is hedonistic heaven.
Better yet, it’s an astounding, voyeuristic showcase for delighting in the sheer beauty of the healthy, human animal, with a sea of simmering, blatantly sexualised bodies. No wonder ballet icon Rudolf Nureyev adored dancing highlights from ‘Le Corsaire’; it staggeringly highlights male eroticism.
Throughout, all of the male dancer’s bodies – many with delightfully bare torsos – are living sculpture of astoundingly chiselled perfection. Particularly, lead dancer Brooklyn Mack – playing Conrad, the titular hero – is a bronzed, wish-fulfilment beach god.
But there’s much more to enjoy than raw, unrestrained physicality. Aesthetically, the entire show is a euphoric, Turkish bath immersion for the senses. Totally non-naturalistic, ‘Le Corsaire’ is all widescreen, IMAX emoting and indelible imagery. One jaw-dropping, vertical lift is as instantly iconic as 9/11’s ‘Falling Man’, and, during a pivotal kidnap, a hooded coven of assassins literally surge on stage.
Then there’s a rivetting opium vision, blue-lit with the signature, Oriental colour-coding for sublimity, and a thrillingly staged, lightning-struck shipwreck at sea. And quite evidently, the show’s constantly powered by an unabashed, if metaphorical, phallic thrust and foreplay from start to finish.
Finally, how nice to see visible sweat so temptingly highlighting the dancer’s pedigree bodies. It’s the complete opposite of sexless, sanitised televised dance, and very, very moreish, a visceral icing on the cake no screened event can possibly match.
So are your nostrils flaring yet, in anticipation of inhaling rampant, male pheromones? Good; then break your ballet virginity ASAP – there’s simply nothing nicer than being ravished beyond your control.
Runs to January 24th 2016.
By Sasha de Suinn