The Bolshoi Ballet – Spartacus

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Last month Bec and I went to see a simulcast of the Bolshoi Ballet’s performance of Spartacus. Performed in Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre at Southbank, the performance was streamed out to regional centres across Queensland, including Toowoomba, Cairns, Mt Isa, Gladstone and Bundaberg. Interestingly Brisbane is the only Australian stop on their tour – such a good reason for living in the Sunshine State. 

The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the world, so to see them perform is a truly memorable occasion. Founded in 1776, it is also one of the oldest ballet companies in the world. The word “bolshoi” actually means “big” or “grand” in russian, and when you see them perform, bolshoi is an apt label. Their performances are known for being bold, colourful, athletic, expressive, dramatic and intense and Spartacus lived up to that reputation. It was extremely athletic and emotionally dramatic. The two male lead dancers endurance and athletic prowess was incredible.

The story of Spartacus has spawned many adaptations – novels and movies, as well as ballet. Of course when you mention the word Spartacus, many people will immediately think of the 1960 film starring Kirk Douglas. I can remember seeing that film on television many years ago, however that film was based on the novel by Howard Fast. The ballet Spartacus tells a slightly different variation of the story.

Living from 111-71 BC, historians believe that Spartacus may have been a roman soldier, who “escaped”, but was then recaptured, and along with his wife, enslaved. Forced to fight as a gladiator, Spartacus led a slave uprising, known as the Third Servile War. While many survivors of the battle were publicly crucified, supposedly around 6,000, Spartacus is believed to have died on the battlefield.

The Ballet of Spartacus shows the ruthless arrogance of the Roman Empire as they invaded, enslaved people, forced them to fight as gladiators for their own perverse amusement, separated husbands and wives, and sexually abused women. The four main leads in the ballet, Spartacus, his wife Phrygia, the roman leader Crassus and his consort Aegina, were brilliant. The performance was not just incredibly technical and athletic, but also portrayed Spartacus’ anguish at the loss of his freedom, his joy when reunited with Phrygia and his courage in the final battle. His crucifixion at the end of the soldiers spears demonstrated some very inspired and dramatic choreography. The final moment though goes to Phrygia, as she defiantly declares that Spartacus’ name and sacrifice be remembered in the annals of history.  And so they are today.

After the performance, Bec and I declared that one day we would like to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform live. One of the benefits of the simulcast is that we had a variety of camera angles – views that even people in the Lyric theatre would not see. We saw close ups of the dancers and could see their emotional response as they literally poured everything into their performance. To see them perform live on the stage would be a once in a life time experience. The simulcast experience was amazing, despite some initial technical issues which fortunately got sorted pretty quickly. It’s probably not as good as being right there in the Lyric Theatre, but it was definitely the next best thing and it was a fantastic opportunity for people around the state of Queensland to see a performance by a world class ballet company – something which many regional people may never be able to experience otherwise. I think the state gov of QLD and QPAC really need to be commended for their determination to being the arts to the regions.

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