There are so many ridiculous moments in Yuri Grigorovich's Spartacus that by rights, I should have hated it completely. The choreography for Spartacus and the slaves consists almost entirely of marching (the "goosestep"), leaping on a diagonal, chest-beating and sword-fighting. The choreography for Phyrgia consists entirely of being lifted like a sack of potatoes. The only remotely interesting choreography is for Crassus and Aegina. Crassus brandishes his penis extension (uh, I mean sword) in some truly convoluted ways, and Aegina is asked to shimmy, to lie on the floor and thrust her hips upwards, and then in Act Three, to do a pole dance in which she actually takes the pole and rubs it between her legs and shivers from the orgasm. The score by Aram Khachaturian takes a melody, and then repeats it about 10,000 times more.
Yet by the end of the three hour extravaganza, you had to love the whole thing. The Bolshoi brings such irresistible energy to every leap, every goosestep, every sword fight, that you find yourself clapping just at their exertions. You can see the corps de ballet panting after yet another thundering diagonal leaping sequence onstage, but thirty seconds later, there they are again, doing another diagonal from the opposite end of the stage. The Bolshoi orchestra plays the kitschy score as if it were Mahler -- the conductor himself got a huge standing ovation before the final act. In other words, the ballet might have been a combo of a Cecil B. DeMille epic crossed with pure Soviet schlock, but it is fun!
The four leads in this afternoon's performance exemplified what I call the "Spartacus spirit." Mikhail Lobukhin was originally from the Mariinsky but he completely transformed himself into Bolshoi Soviet Superman. He was beefy, he was strong, he was tireless. In Act Three he drew a huge ovation for lifting Phrygia (Anna Nikulina) over his head with one arm, then circling the entire stage while Nikulina changed positions several times. First she was in the classic curtain drape lift (see below). Then she was sort of in an overhead split. Then she somehow turned her body completely upside down and her legs were in the air as her head was facing the ground. I bet Lobukhin could bench press with the best of the Olympians. As for Nikulina, there were murmurs among the audience that she's one of the Bolshoi's weaker ballerinas, but all I can say is: she certainly knows how to stick her legs in the air while being lifted. She also knows how to catch her foot while being wrapped around Spartacus's shoulders. And really, that's all the role requires.
But really, it's not the leads that make the Bolshoi special. It's the company of 200, most of whom will never have a chance to ever leave the corps de ballet. Despite the vicious infighting in the company (a company feud resulted in the director Sergei Filin being partially blinded by an acid attack last year), when the Bolshoi steps onstage, they dance with an such energy and passion, and that energy is transmitted across the footlights to the audience. Whether they are waving their fans in Don Quixote or brandishing their swords in Spartacus, they dance every performance as if it were their last. You can't help but be whipped in a frenzy of dance.
After the performance I waited at the stage door and saw many of these dancers carrying huge pieces of luggage as they rushed to the airport. Many of them were scarfing sandwiches. They looked exhausted. Thank you Bolshoi!
|The incredible Spartacus, Mikhail Lobukhin|
|King Joffrey, uh, I mean, Alexander Volchkov (Crassus)|
|Denis Rodkin, who I unfortunately missed as Spartacus|
|The gorgeous prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova|