The Bolshoi are back in town and, judging from yesterday’s opening performance of Spartacus, they are here to show off their characteristically big and bold style of ballet. Spartacus is a spectacle of grand scale, a thrilling combination of physical power and drama. Last seen in London in 2007, when Carlos Acosta guested with the company in the leading role, this larger than life Soviet warhorse needs an explosive performance at its core. Now with 21 year-old Ivan Vasiliev the company has found someone who can soar through the stage in impressive leaps but also pack an intense emotional punch.

Damir Yusupov, Bolshoi theatre
Damir Yusupov, Bolshoi theatre

Spartacus is the balletic equivalent of a big Hollywood epic. Think Gladiatorial rings, orgies and bloody battles danced to Khachaturian’s grand cinematic score. It demands from its dancers not only solid technique but a clear understanding of drama and narrative through dance. The lead Vasiliev knows this and creates a slave hero that incites his followers and audiences alike. We feel Spartacus’s journey, the iconic freedom fighter becomes real, his struggle and determination expressed through an infinite sequence of jaw-dropping jumps. Vasiliev is well matched in Alexander Volchkov's narcissistic Crassus, who contrasted Vasiliev's vigour and muscle with elegant lines. Nina Kaptsova's Phrygia, the hero's suffering wife gave a vivid performance, full of pathos and fragility.

Though expressive, Grigorovitch’s choreography is far from perfect. The solos for each main character give little opportunity for highly individual interpretations and often feel repetitive: for Spartacus and Crassus lots of athletic jumps, for Aegina (Maria Allash) and Phrygia, plenty of leg extensions. And in key moments between the lovers Phrygia and Spartacus the choreography often lacks the eloquence to match Khachaturian's soaring adagio moments. It is somewhat disappointing to have as climax little else than a one handed lift.

Spartacus may feel massively ambitious and outdated, but the sheer power of the Bolshoi ensemble, when all the soldiers and slaves are circling Crassus and Spartacus, certainly provide for thrilling dance theatre. And as Vasiliev, breaks into the masses, all abandonment and spectacle, all excesses are forgiven. His tour de force performance is worth the ticket alone.

By Linda from The Ballet Bag
www.theballetbag.com