The characters of ‘Le Corsaire’: The selfless Gulnara
While the epic pirate story, Le Corsaire, is essentially a love story between a pirate and his damsel in distress, what gives this adventure ballet its heart is the friendship between the two female leads: Medora and Gulnara.
When Le Corsaire’s original choreographer Joseph Mazilier decided to revive the ballet in 1867, he added the Pas des fleurs which Marius Petipa retained and expanded in his succeeding versions of the ballet. This beautiful scene noted for its red roses and garlands of flowers is where Medora and Gulnara are reunited, celebrating their friendship in the midst of a garden in full bloom, and despite the fact that they were being presented as objects of desire.
But Gulnara is more than just a good friend. In the original version where she is described as the favorite slave of the Pasha, Gulnara’s selflessness was most remarkable when she helped Medora escape by switching places with her to become the Pasha’s wife.
In more recent versions, Gulnara is portrayed as Medora’s best friend rather than the favorite slave of the Pasha. In the end, both are eventually rescued by Conrad and his men.
The Pas d’Esclave – one of Gulnara’s most notable variations today – was the result of a “diva” moment by prima ballerina Marfa Muravieva who needed to be appeased for not being cast as Medora in the 1858 staging of Le Corsaire (the foreigner prima ballerina Ekaterina Friedbürg got the role). Petipa extracted the central pas from La Rose, la Violette et le Papillon and added it into the first act of Le Corsaire. It was originally performed by two anonymous slaves but eventually became identified with Gulnara and Lankadem.
Among the most prominent dancers who performed the role of Gulnara were Russian prima ballerina Olga Preobrajenskaya, Yelena Pankova, Paloma Herrera, and Russian prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova.
Ballet Manila’s very own Gulnaras include Elline Damian, Melanie Motus, Vera Sourovtseva, Ludmila Chuyeva, Sandralyn Huang, Pamela Asprer, Marian Faustino, Mylene Aggabao, Ea Marie Torrado, Yanti Marduli, Jennifer Rose Olayvar, Gabriella Galvez, Zaira Cosico, Joan Emery Sia, Jan Erika Basilio, Tiffany Chiang-Janolo, and Sofia Sangco-Peralta.
In the latest staging of Le Corsaire to be held on October 20 at 6 p.m. and October 21 at 3 p.m. at the Aliw Theater, Ballet Manila is introducing two new Gulnaras: soloists Nicole Klaudine Barroso and Jasmine Pia Dames. For tickets, please log on to www.ticketworld.com.ph.