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Yuri Grigorovich Krasnodar Ballet Theatre

'Spartacus'

by Catherine Pawlick

August 2, 2005 -- Mariinksy Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

It came as somewhat of a surprise that the pinnacle of summertime ballet offerings in St. Petersburg came not from the Kirov Ballet’s own performances – superb though most of them were – but from the second annual visit of Yuri Grigorovich’s Krasnodar Ballet Theatre. Its two-week stay at the Mariinsky Theatre, August 1-15, while the Kirov is on vacation, included not only reprises of Grigorovich’s versions of “The Nutcracker,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Spartacus” which they performed during last year’s St. Petersburg tour, but also “Raymonda,” “Le Corsaire” and “La Bayadere.”

The company is still young. Founded in 1997 with the city of Krasnodar as its base, Grigorovich’s theatre is linked to the main centers of Russian classical ballet – Moscow and St. Petersburg – but is far enough away to grow without the pressure present in these larger cities. The ballets he cultivated during his 33 year tenure at the Bolshoi Ballet remain in his possession and are now a part of his company’s repertoire. He has been called back to the Bolshoi Ballet, to set “Swan Lake,” “Raymonda” and his “Legend of Love.” Grigorovich is also setting ballets at the Paris Opera and holds an all-Russian “Young Ballet of Russia” competition in Krasnodar.

To a sold-out house, the August 4th performance of “Spartacus” confirmed Grigorovich’s position as the sole living Russian choreographer able to create full-length three-act ballets in the classical tradition. His editions of “Raymonda,” “Le Corsaire” and “La Bayadere,” all based on Petipa, attest to his musical and choreographic talent, lest there was any doubt. But ballets such as “Spartacus” are a breed apart because they are uniquely his, not re-writes of Petipa but complete conceptions with Grigorovich’s signature style infused in the movements and overall production presentation.

Created first in 1969 for the Bolshoi Ballet, “Spartacus” is set to Aram Khachaturian’s powerful score, with period-faithful costumes and scenes that alternate exhibitions of corps de ballet work with soloist “monologues,” the ballet equivalent of an operatic aria, danced by one of the main characters alone on stage.

“Spartacus” contains 21 scenes, divided into three acts. The curtain opens to a backdrop of a stone wall with Greek lettering on it. The distinction between Crassus’ wine-drinking, orgy-engaging upper-class debauchery and the simple love between Spartacus and Frigia among the slaves is clear from the very first scene. Grigorovich is nothing if not a corps de ballet choreographer, a component of his creative talent that assures his productions such success. Despite a slightly lower level of technical expertise among his corps dancers, the sheer artistry of his choreography (helped in no small part by Khachaturian’s melodies) glosses over this deficiency. Male slaves and Crassian warriors execute any number of leaps, swords in hand. Female slaves kneel to the floor in despair, hands grasped behind their backs as if bound by chains. The effects of his choreography are impressive in their subtlety: he takes the viewer back in time and nothing seems awry. One cannot imagine “Spartacus” done in any other way.

As with most classical troupes, a few leading ballerinas draw the eye, and in this performance, with this troupe and these dancers, they even overshadow the males in terms of technique and drama. (Films suggest that is not the case with former performances of Marius Liepa and Irek Mukhamedov as Crassus and Spartacus, respectively.)
Victoria Luchkina, a perfect, svelte, petite blonde with enviable legs, danced Frigia, Spartacus’ lover. Her technique has no faults and her dramatic ability is considerable. Grigorovich’s romantic pas de deux gave her room to exhibit both. Her long extensions were beautiful to behold and the depth of her grief in the final scenes echoed the deep emotionality of a Lady Capulet. Luchkina would be an excellent Juliet.

Alla Sivtsova danced the role of Egina, Crassus’ better half. Sivtsova recalled Alla Mikhalchenko’s interpretation of the role – elastic, sensual but with a personality as powerful as that of Crassus. Never soft, but always self-assured, Sivtsova also drew attention for her exotic extensions. Only her feet were not supple enough to complete the line at times, but her strength – as witnessed by multiple pirouettes en pointe – compensated.

Both ballerinas echo Natalia Bessmertnova’s signature movements, particularly Luchkina, whose graceful forearms, folded wrists and relaxed fingers lent the role more authenticity rather than detracting from it. The port de bras of Grigorovich’s choreography is classical with a touch of personalization, almost a sub-technique, a style all his own.

The male dancers in Grigorovich’s troupe draw mixed reviews. From films of Marius Liepa in the role of Crassus and Irek Mukhamedov as Spartacus, it is evident that Grigorovich’s men haven’t quite reached the level of their predecessors. As Spartacus, Denis Vladimirov offered an admirable emotional representation even if his lines were marred by a lack of suppleness in his feet. This issue seems epidemic in the company, but even without the feet of Vladimir
Malakov, Vladimirov impressed with his consistency, energy and strength, drawing applause for a sustained overhead one-arm press lift with Luchkina and his believable rendition of the warrior-slave determined to beat mighty Crassus.

If Spartacus is allowed more dramatic leaps and solo work. Crassus’ role requires more acting and partnering. For the August 4th performance, Crassus was danced by Sergei Barranikov, whose stern, statue-like face indeed recalled the ancient Greeks. He was entranced by Sivtsova’s strong sexuality and determined (not to mention successful) in his efforts to conquer Spartacus. One received the impression of a cold-hearted, greedy Greek – and in that respect, Barranikov is to be commended. Barranikov and Vladimirov both executed multiple clean pirouettes but with a turned-in retire passé, leading one to believe this was a stylistic part of the choreography rather than a serendipitous trait of the males in the company.

Grigorovich leaves nothing to chance and nothing to outside help. The Symphony Orchestra of the Krasnodarsk Ballet Theatre accompanied the dancers on this tour and was conducted beautifully by Alexander Lavreniuk.

It is a testament to Grigorovich’s talent that even after his 30-year tenure at the Bolshoi, he continues his artistic journey-- founding a new young ballet company, directing a national ballet competition and managing the global Benois de la Danse awards is enough for several hundred people, but Grigorovich manages to do it all and successfully. That Valeri Gergiev allows him an annual visit to the Mariinsky is a gift to St. Petersburg residents; that the Bolshoi has called him back to restage his own works reflects the prestige and honor he carries in Russia.

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