by Lyndsey Winship
July 30, 2004 -- The Royal Opera House, London
After the poorly received "Romeo and Juliet", the Bolshoi came back with a classic crowd pleaser that was much more to the audience’s taste, Yuri Grigorovich’s 1968 setting of "Spartacus". The tale of the gladiator who led a rebellion against the Roman Emperor Crassus in first century AD is a great burst of balletic entertainment, with all the action, heroism, love, treachery and tragedy you could ask for.
Charismatic leads are essential in a production like this and this is a show that hinges on its leading men. Yuri Klevtsov danced Spartacus on Friday and he makes a convincing, if humble, hero. Earnest and honourable, we always know that he's going to do the right thing.
Spartacus is a demanding role, playing at full power over three 45-minute acts, and Klevtsov’s technique is not always consistent, but there are plenty of moments when he hits the heights and really flies through the air. He also holds his own in more tender moments such as the monologues (danced, not spoken) which are interspersed with the action to illustrate the characters’ emotions and fears.
Spartacus does not, however, find a worthy adversary in Vladimir Neporozhny’s Crassus. The supposedly cruel and ruthless Roman leader looks merely disinterested for most of the performance, occasionally managing a self-satisfied smirk when he pulls off a tricky turn.
The women are relegated to supporting roles. Inna Petrova is Spartacus’s beloved, Phrygia, and seems to be a fairly submissive missus. In Spartacus and Phrygia's pas de deux, Petrova is the perfect airborne accessory, slung over Klevtsov’s manly shoulders like his gladiator’s cape or thrust impossibly aloft like a battlefield staff. It’s very impressive, if not particularly soulful.
Maria Allash, as Crassus’s courtesan, Aegina, has more of a role to relish. As ever, the feisty ,manipulative brunette has a lot more fun than the bland blonde. She is snakelike and sensual with sharper lines and figure-hugging moves, and shows amazing control in her slow monologue.
So, the Romans enslave the people of Thrace, and Spartacus incites the prisoners to revolt. The male ensemble get their testosterone flowing in some roof-raising routines, buoyed by Khachaturian’s rousing score. They storm the palace and Spartacus soon has Crassus at knifepoint. But being the noble man he is, and sure of his victory, Spartacus lets Crassus go. A fatal mistake it turns out. As every Bond villain knows, you should always kill them while you’ve got the chance.
In resolving to regain his honour Crassus rallies his troops, but his frog-marching men look as spineless and faintly ridiculous as their leader. It’s up to conniving Aegina to distract Spartacus’s army with wine and women and leave our hero to his lonely fate.
Meanwhile, Petrova’s Phrygia has warmed up and she shows some sensitive, lyrical dancing in a delicate solo – her being brimming with pure pleasure and radiating goodness – but her reverie is unfortunately interrupted by news of the advancing army. Dance-wise Phrygia is much better off without her man, as, incidentally, is Aegina. In the final Requiem, with Spartacus slain, and her unkempt hair turned black with grief, Phrygia comes into her own. It is she who elevates the gladiator to hero, stretching her hands to heaven and dancing out the depths of her soul.
Edited by Jeff.
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