05/13/2013 08:11 am ET Updated Jul 13, 2013

An Astonishing Performance


Every once in a while I attend a performance that is so remarkable that I forget about ticket sales, fundraising, budget cutting or any other aspect of my job. I may be sitting in the Kennedy Center's Opera House, but I even forget I work there or have any responsibility for the cast, crew, musicians, ushers and numerous others who work with me. For these few hours, I can even refrain from evaluating technique -- the dancers' feet, arms and legs, the musicians' intonation, the spotlights' focus. I simply enjoy the production.

A recent performance of Le Corsaire by American Ballet Theatre was such a moment. I know the choreography well. The ballet came into the repertory of ABT during my tenure as executive director. It was always a good fit for the company; ABT has a great roster of male principals and Corsaire has four great men's roles, not to mention two wonderful roles for ballerinas and several featured roles as well. (I will never forget a young Gillian Murphy, now a principal dancer, performing the third odalisque variation when the production was first brought to ABT.) Le Corsaire is not a deep ballet (the plot revolves around a group of pirates and the harem girls they kidnap from a doddering pasha -- not an enlightened story, nor politically correct!) but it is certainly entertaining. There are more leaps, turns and astonishing feats than in any other dance work I know.

And as danced by the cast I saw, it was pretty remarkable.

Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev were the leading couple, Medora and Conrad, the head pirate. When they first appeared at the Kennedy Center with the Bolshoi Ballet several years ago, they startled us in Don Quixote. Now, we have come to expect remarkable dancing from them but nothing could have prepared me for Osipova's astonishing pinpoint turns and Vasiliev's leaps.

Sarah Lane, in the second role of Gulnare, was beautiful in her first act pas de deux with the amazing Herman Cornejo as Lankendem, the slave trader. Herman is always a beautiful dancer; but here he invested his character with such energy and verve that his character seemed far more important to the plot than ever before.

Craig Salstein made a wonderful villain -- his vigor brought interest to the several pirate dances, not the strongest parts of the ballet.

And what more can one say about Daniil Simkin as Ali, the Slave? He brought such remarkable technique and exuberance to the famous Corsaire pas de deux (a pas de trois in this version) that he made one forget the many performances of this chestnut we have seen on too many gala programs.

Each artist shone but it was the incredibly high level of dancing, across the entire cast, that made this performance so special. I doubt any member of the audience will soon forget that Sunday matinee. As I left the theater, I missed my days at American Ballet Theatre and the incredible pride I felt when "my" dancers performed so beautifully.