Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, review: Spartacus production is blockbusting business as usual for the celebrated Moscow company

From the leads to the corps de ballet, there’s a shared certainty about this company, a power without strain

Wednesday 31 July 2019 11:18
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Spartacus Bolshoi Ballet trailer

The Bolshoi Ballet opened its London summer season with Spartacus, which is blockbusting business as usual for the celebrated Moscow company. The dancers pour themselves into the ripsnorting leaps and bounds of Yuri Grigorovich’s 1968 drama, dancing with characteristic power and belief.

Spartacus, the story of slave revolt, has been a Bolshoi calling card for decades. Though the company has experimented with ways to move on from its Soviet past, this London season, presented by Victor Hochhauser, sticks close to that older core identity, dominated by Spartacus and 19th-century classics. Only The Bright Stream, Alexei Ratmansky’s delightful 2003 romantic comedy, hints at more recent directions.

Spartacus wears its Soviet-era convictions on its sleeve. Grigorovich’s ballet is a black and white world of evil, goose-stepping Romans and pure-hearted rebels whose virtues soar as high as their jumps. From the blare of Aram Khachaturian’s score, all fanfares and berserk percussion, to the corps de ballet moving in massed ranks, it’s all broad brush strokes and gusto. One touch of irony, and the whole thing would crumble: it works because of the Bolshoi’s unique, ardent sincerity.

As the gladiator turned slave leader, Denis Rodkin combines dramatic momentum with clean, tireless dancing. He doesn’t have the transcendent quality that can lift this ballet into another sphere, but he’s strong, open-hearted and suitably heroic. His dancing has ease as well as power, his arms graceful in the grand poses. There are touches of tenderness as he partners his lover Phrygia, danced by Anastasia Denisova. A limpid dancer, she’s fearless in the overhead lifts, but exaggerates some of the high legged poses.

As Crassus, leader of the Roman army, Artemy Belyakov struts with seething malice, as ready with a sneer as with a leap. In his big solos, he lifts into the air with imperious force.

Svetlana Zakharova is the biggest international name in this opening night cast, and more than lives up to it. She has a whale of a time as Crassus’s mistress Aegina, a turbo-charged vamp who is all plots and slinking poses. Tall and long-limbed, Zakharova unfolds herself into Roman salutes and gleeful seductions. When she swears revenge, she takes whole seconds to close her hand into a fist, moving with fabulous, silent movie intensity.

Spartacus gains its power from consistency. From the leads to the corps de ballet, there’s a shared certainty about this company, a power without strain. The soloist shepherds dance with particular energy, while the Bolshoi women show a lovely sleek quality of movement, soft as well as strong.

Season continues until 17 August. Box office 020 7304 4000

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