Spartacus, Coliseum, London
Friday 25 July 2008
The Mikhailovsky Ballet's Spartacus is billed as a £1m production, and it's easy to see where the money went. It has 200 people on stage, big sets, lots of costumes, lots of gilding – from chariots to pillars to a general's gold lamé tights. If the kitchen sink were sparkly, it would be in here.
The company is named for its St Petersburg theatre (formerly known as the Maly), an opera and ballet house that celebrates its 175th anniversary this year. Until recently, the ballet company was best known for its repertory of rare 19th-century ballets. Now it has new funding, a new director in Kirov star Farukh Ruzimatov, and new productions.
Choreographer George Kovtun is clearly influenced by Russia's most famous Spartacus ballet, Yuri Grigorovich's version for the Bolshoi. Kovtun has similar big lifts and athletic poses, but surrounds them with fiddly detail.
Throughout, this Spartacus is poorly paced. Kovtun's numbers have spectacular endings – the villain's girl-friend is hurled through the air, caught by a bunch of centurions – but those finales come without much build-up. Duets are full of derivative steps and anticlimaxes.
Vyacheslav Okunev's set has detailed three-dimensional scenery, with moveable colonnades, garlands, giant masks. Gladiators are herded into cages, while decadent Romans parade round an elaborate marketplace. It's just as well that the plot is fairly simple, since Kovtun is too busy bringing on the crowds to do much storytelling. It's not until the final scenes that these characters really seem to engage with each other.
The crowds are huge. Besides the dancers, there are singers on stage. This is a choral version of Khachaturian's score, with some operatic soloists for the orgy scene. The music is the strongest thing in this production. The Mikhailovsky orchestra, conducted by Karen Durgarian, plays with bite and gusto.
Spartacus is Denis Matvienko, who has starred with both the Kirov and the Bolshoi. He's tireless, bounding through endless jumps and complex partnering. Marat Shimunov and Denis Mozorov show similar stamina as the patrician Crassus and as Spartacus's faithless friend Crixus. Kovtun shows off his dancers' athleticism, but gives them little chance to show character or individuality. Anastasia Matvienko adds some energy as Crassus's girlfriend.
The company's style shows strong Bolshoi influence, with high lifts, and big, emphatic dancing. Individual soloists stand out – I kept noticing one soldier, moving with dash and precision. There's confident dancing here, lost in the throng.
It's easy to see why Spartacus was chosen to open the company's first UK visit: as exotic spectacle, it shows the Mikhailovsky's new ambition. But for all its Cecil B DeMille extravagance, the show plods.
Season continues to 27 July (0871 911 0200)
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Cyclist who knocked down three-year-old girl says his life has been 'destroyed'
- 2 A politically correct lefty goes to see Top Gear live – you'll probably believe what happened next
- 3 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 4 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 5 Snoop Dogg on why he doesn't regret displaying misogyny towards women
Stolen Instagram photo sells for $90,000
Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
Eurovision 2015 winner: Sweden beats Russia and Italy to take the title from Conchita Wurst
Dheepan, film review: Palme d'Or prize goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Game of Thrones, The Gift, Season 5, Episode 7: Why two of the show’s most iconic characters just met
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland