Oh what a treat last night! We were invited to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden for the Bolshoi Ballet’s ‘Spartacus’ with the music of Khachaturian. Excited by the prospect the fabled Bolshoi, I was unsure about the choice of Spartacus imagining it to be visually spare, ascetic and just hard work, frankly. I was wrong and had to eat my uninformed hat: it was thrilling, beguiling and a magnificent spectacle.
The background to Spartacus’s rebellion of the slaves was the dissolute behaviour at the heart of the Roman Empire. With sly wit, choreographer Yuri Grigovich juxtaposed the military aggression with a bacchanal of the effete Roman elite, of satyrs and dancing girls; and later amongst half the followers of Spartacus who turned against their leader when seduced into lustful abandon by the Roman general’s courtesan Aegina. Maria Allash in that role was sexy and capricious, a real handful. Her tiny toga was draped to expose a bare breast cleverly conceived by a little circle of red sequins on flesh-coloured net. Her General (Alexander Volchkov) had the finest legs below his leather tunic that I’ve ever had the privilege to dwell upon and, boyishly glamorous, he evinced a camp kind of menace. (On a fashion note, here were the most fitting gladiator sandals of the season.)
Dominating the production was the overwhelmingly virile, saturnine presence of Ivan Vasiliev as Spartacus. At only twenty-one, he is being hailed as a once-in-a-generation icon, the next Barishnikov? Stocky, athletic and savage he seemed to demonstrate the limits of human strength and agility as well as the gift of flight. And yet he was most tenderly passionate towards his lover Phrygia (Nina Kaptsova) who bent and wavered and wafted like a willow in the breeze.
In the midst of my first attempt as ballet critic, a curious thought struck me. I don't suppose the T*l*b*n would be too happy with this physicality, this intimacy, this state of undress. I pondered the matter from a socio-religio-political angle on the way to the pub and suddenly heard myself asking my other half ‘By the way, did you find anything untoward happening in the trouser department tonight?’ Choking on his Guinness the answer was an emphatic NO. ‘Okay, okay, just checking out the corrupting power of dance on the average British male.’