Review: Spartacus, Bolshoi Ballet, QPAC (QLD)

Gillian Wills

Presented as part of the Bolshoi's exclusive, 11-day visit to Brisbane, this spectacular ballet features almost supernatural displays of airborne artistry by Igor Tsvirko.
Review: Spartacus, Bolshoi Ballet, QPAC (QLD)

Mikhail Lobukhin in the Bolshoi's Spartacus. Photo credit: Damir Yusupov.

On opening night, a welcoming QPAC buzzed with excitement. The Bolshoi’s 11-day visit is a Brisbane exclusive. The company are performing two ballets: Jewels, choreographed by George Balanchine, and Spartacus, a Bolshoi favourite. Both ballets date from the 1960’s.

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The story of how Spartacus leads a rebellion of ill-treated gladiatorial slaves against the Romans is one of enduring appeal. Immortalised in a novel by Raffaello Giovagnolli and a Hollywood film starring Kirk Douglas, it also exists as a compelling ballet set to Russian composer Khatchachurian’s lush, heart-rending score.

Yuri Grigorovich’s choreography captures the tight formations of Roman foot soldiers, the phalanxes and testudos of Roman military tactics. These formations are stressed by an impressively synchronised male chorus. In a long performance, these episodic marching displays become repetitive, even a little awkward as the balletic legion twisted torsos to the right and left and these moves were punctuated by unison, stage-tapped swords.

And yet these tight military sequences, rather old-school, serve as a marvellous foil for the soaring leaps and breathtaking artistry of a liberated Spartacus vigorously and unforgettably danced by Igor Tsvirko. Tsvirko revealed almost supernatural skill in athletic displays of airborne artistry. Dances by the ensemble of slaves infused with folksy moves were rewarding and with allusions to Cossack dance pulsed with authenticity.

Among the many highlights were Tsvirko’s chain of pirouettes which accelerate into a fast spin before he resumes another set of perfectly executed turns. As a real-life partnership, Tsvirko and Margaritia Shrayner have a crowd-pleasing rapport. Shrayner is eminently believable as the hero’s wife. In dancing her poignant role she brims with melting tenderness. The couple’s pas de deux of exquisitely graceful lifts were executed with such elegance the technical mastery required was entirely masked.

Similarly, principals Alexander Volchkov, as Roman leader Crassus and Olga Smirnova, his scheming mistress, perform a sublime, superbly balanced duet with many virtuosic holds and a thrilling one-armed lift in which Smirnova appears to balance on Volchkov’s hand. A brilliant soloist, Smirnova excels as the arch and canny seductress.

In realising Khatchurian’s romantic score, conductor Pavel Sorokin commanded the QSO distinctively and the orchestra’s emotional power, persuasive melodic lines and assured accompaniment were an integral component in this epic’s success. Costumes were timeless. The colours for the Romans were a classical mix of silver, white and gold. The rebels’ black and sun-bleached orangey threads conjured the comfortable sepia tones of a faded photograph in this nostalgic, spectacular ballet. A standing ovation greeted the deserving Bolshoi cast.

4 ½ stars: ★★★★☆

Spartacus
Bolshoi Ballet
Lyric Theatre, QPAC
26-28 June and 4-7 July 2019

About the author

Gillian Wills writes for ArtsHub and has published with Griffith Review, The Australian Book Review, The Australian, Limelight Magazine, Courier Mail, Townsville Bulletin, The Strad, Musical Opinion, Cut Common, Loudmouth, Artist Profile and Australian Stage Online. Gillian is the author of Elvis and Me: How a world-weary musician and a broken ex-racehorse rescued each other (Finch Publishing) which was released in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and America in January, 2016.