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American Ballet Theatre

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Take Le Corsaire with a grain of salt. A big one. Attacked by four 19th-century choreographers over a period of 62 years and set to music by five composers, the full-length ballet contains innumerable melodramatic episodes. But the story can be boiled down to this: Conrad, the pirate of the title, frees a harem girl, Medora, and they survive a shipwreck to live happily ever after. The ballet is based on an 1814 verse tale by infamous libertine Lord Byron, and his influence shows: watching a "Dance in America" taped version, I couldn't help thinking that this was the 19th century's soft-core porn. All the women are slave girls in skimpy costumes (this could be the first time you see a ballerina in a tutu with a bare midriff), and the second act pas de deux a trois, featuring Conrad, Medora, and Conrad's male slave, definitely has the air of a threesome. The ballet's saving grace is its overall lightheartedness and humor. Plus it's a great showcase for male dancing. These performances mark the Chicago premiere of Anna-Marie Holmes's 1998 full-length version for ABT, choreographed after Marius Petipa. Through 4/2: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker, 312-902-1500, 312-922-2110, ext. 357, for groups of 15 or more, $20-$98.

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