Le Corsaire, Coliseum, London

Talent shines to save a daft show

ABT has a history as a star company, bringing in talent from all around the globe. Worldwide, ballet companies are becoming more international, but this is still an unusually starry company. The men are particularly strong, soaring through the virtuoso steps with easy, expansive charm.

Even so, it takes a while for this performance to take off. As a ballet, Le Corsaire is all about spectacle. The choreography, here staged by Anna-Marie Holmes after Petipa and Sergueyev, is full of dance fireworks: lots of whiz-bang, not much depth. It's a series of set-pieces and frothing mime scenes, from a pirates' grotto to a vision scene with a real fountain.

It's a pity, then, that Irina Tibilova's sets are so drab, Mary Jo Dondlinger's lighting so flat, the production's stage magic so clunky. The music, a patchwork by five different composers, sounds very rum-ti-tum under Charles Barker's conducting.

Things perk up with the arrival of Herman Cornejo as Lankedem, bazaar owner, slave merchant and all-round villain. Cornejo is a light, exuberant dancer, swaggering and doing everything but twirl his moustache.

His slave girls include Gillian Murphy, as our heroine Medora. Murphy is a long-limbed dancer, with sweeping line and sure technique. She approaches the role with admirable gravity, sweetly involved in the daft goings-on around her. It's an open, spontaneous performance. She's matched by Marcelo Gomes as her lover, the pirate Conrad. He partners her warmly, and dances with buoyant confidence.

Le Corsaire's best known number is a gala pas de deux for the heroine with a slave in baggy trousers. In the full ballet, it's a pas de trois, but the slave Ali still gets the lion's share of the show-off steps. Angel Corella burns through it, spinning at furious speed. As he turns, he rises and dips, a sudden plié changing his whirling silhouette.

Xiomara Reyes is disappointing as Medora's friend Gulnara. Her technique is strong, but she carries her head awkwardly, and could make more of Gulnara's lively personality. Victor Barbee struggles with the Pasha, an embarrassing clown role. Carlos Lopez makes a strong impression as Conrad's treacherous friend, firing pistols and bounding through split jetés. He's matched by Marian Butler as an authoritative pirate woman. Their character dances, with a corps in heeled shoes, have a stomping energy. Once they've got past the production, this is a strong company of dancers, on lively form.