by Catherine Pawlick
16 May 2008 -- Mikhailovsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
Under the artistic direction of Farukh Ruzimatov, choreographer Georgy Kovtyn’s new production of “Spartacus”, which first premiered on April 29 at the Mikhailovsky Theatre, is a full-length entertainment extravaganza. With elaborate gilded sets and matching gold costumes by the Vozrozhdenie Company and an onstage opera chorus under the direction of Vladimir Stolpovskikh, almost nothing is left out of this version of the Khatchaturian classic.
From the first curtain, which reveals the end of our story – Spartacus strung up high on a crucifix with chains between two stone buildings that move together, forcing his disappearance – to the first scene inside the coliseum, where any number of dancers, performers, warriors, and contortionists perform in a massive crowd scene, all done to the background of operatic singing by members of the onstage choir, “Spartacus” starts off on a grand scale. The choreography also starts out with a bang – high, stage-sweeping jumps, difficult lifts, and allegro virtually from start to finish, no matter who is dancing. This production is not for the weak of heart or limb. Unfortunately, its strengths stop there, and those looking for emotional depth or a dramatic connection to the artists will be left disappointed. But those hoping for an evening full of entertainment, and more than their fill of onstage sword fighting or massive crowd scenes, will be pleased.
Two exceptions to the dramatic weaknesses came from the two leading women who danced on the evening of May 16. Vera Arbuzova of the Eifman Ballet danced Spartacus’ girlfriend/lover, Valeria, with depth and passion. Recalling Bessmertnova with a similar tendency to bent wrists, Arbuzova drew the most applause of the evening after her anguished parting pas de deux with Spartacus, danced by Marat Shemnunov. Though both dancers debuted in the role that evening, Arbuzova delivered the stronger emotional message. Shemnunov, impossibly tall, seemed almost too lengthy for the stage; it was as if his internal energy didn’t quite reach the ends of his limbs in what could have been explosive jumps and turns. He danced well, but one couldn’t help but see how fitting Ruzimatov himself would have been in this fiery role.
As Crassus’ girlfriend, Tatiana Miltseva, a beautiful petite blonde with amazing flexibility and a clever knack for fanfare, also drew attention, partly for her spot center stage in nearly every scene. After numerous gymnastic pas de deux with Crassus, danced with conviction and consistency by Dmitry Shadrukhin, she then danced several extensive duets with Kriks, Spartacus’ fellow gladiator, danced by Andrey Masloboev. Beautiful to behold, Miltseva deserves kudos for endless energy and undying smiles. Her stage presence was notable throughout the evening.
The other attention magnet was the live tiger brought onstage first in a cage, and then by leash. Perhaps a theatrical trick, the looming feline was hardly a pussycat, and added a Roman feel to the rest of the ancient atmosphere.
The corps de ballet also deserves recognition for executing the often complex and presumably exhausting choreography. This production proceeds in high-energy mode from start to finish. Of particular note were several groups of male dancers who performed interludes in warrior dress in the Second Act: Alexei Suznetsov, Maksim Eremeev, Pavel Vinogradov, and Alexander Gavrish. Likewise, the women of the Mikhailovsky displayed some lovely arabesque lines and clean technical execution.
While clear from one viewing that not every dancer in the company is of the same caliber – there is a wide range of capability across the board – the overall impression for one not skilled in ballet technique will nonetheless be adequate. The single jarring inadequacy was the role of Pompei, performed by Andrey Bregvadze who could neither point his toes nor straighten his knees. He looked as if he had stumbled onstage by accident, leaving one puzzled as to why he received a leading (mostly mime) role. The rest of the troupe danced well.
For purely entertainment value, this production of “Spartacus” is worth seeing. As Ruzimatov’s first full-length work at the Mikhailovsky, he has much to be proud of. “Spartacus” gives no reason for psychological reflection, but it is a broad-scale diversion that displays the capabilities of this newly reborn ballet company.
Karen Dourgaryan conducted the orchestra.