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Spartacus @ the Met, July 22, 23, 2005Reviews and Comments


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#1 drb

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 05:05 AM

How did they do?

#2 drb

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 07:56 AM

For those going to today's Spartacus who are on Natasha Osipova watch, last night she was the last Shepherdess to descend from the 'hill' ( Act 2, Scene 5: The Appian Way), and her joy in performing reminded me of Darci Kistler in her apprenctice days. Hopefully they won't bother to recast these bit parts.

#3 Paul Parish

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 12:06 PM

Anybody know anything about the relationship between the Soviet Spartacuses (Jakobsen's and/or Grigorovich's) and the American Communist Howard Fast's novel Spartacus (which was the basis fr the Kirk Douglas movie)?

#4 dirac

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 01:21 PM

The story of Spartacus' rebellion has held appeal for generations of revolutionaries and leftists, for obvious reasons. Spartacus was a hero in revolutionary France, for example, and Germany's Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg called their party the Spartacists. Lenin also mentions Spartacus in his writings, and I'm sure he pops up elsewhere in literature I can't think of offhand. Marx and Engels mention him too, somewhere. Fast's Communism doubtless attracted him to the subject, and I wouldn't be surprised if similar factors were at play in the Soviet Union as well. As Paul notes, the picture was derived from Fast's book (and another Communist, former Communist at that point, Dalton Trumbo of the Hollywood Ten, wrote the screenplay; it was the second big picture to appear with Trumbo's name on it, and was another nail in the coffin of the blacklist).

#5 drb

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 01:48 PM

It appears that Khachaturian began working on the score in 1950, predating the novel, but it wasn't completed till 1954, postdating the novel. Jakobson's version premiered in 1956. The Spartacus story had appeared in literature and theater long before the novel. Of course that doesn't mean that the authorities who requested the ballet weren't aware of the book...
There is an interesting picture of Jakobson dancing Spartacus in ballet.co's Bolshoi Archives:
http://www.ballet.co...acobson_500.jpg

#6 Paul Parish

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 04:23 PM

amazing photograph - but then, every picture Ive ever seen of Jakobson's Spartacus has intrigued me.

Fast wrote his novel during or immediately after his imprisonment by the House Unamerican Activities Committee for refusing to name names; no publisher would take it, so he took out an ad in hte NY Times that offered to send a copy to anyone who'd send him a check for three dollars, when he'd gotten enough money to get it printed. Checks poured in, it sold (later it became a best-seller, an was widely translated, but not at first, when J Edgar Hoover himself threatened anyone who'd distribute it, or any of Fast's books). I know this, because he married my cousin, and that's what she says. He optioned it to Kirk Douglas for one dollar on the condition that they hire the best people for the job, regardless of the blacklist. It was indeed a nail in hte coffin of the blacklist.

I know that when hte Australian Ballet performed another version of Spartacus (by a Hungarian), they credited him in the program with a line "inspired by the novel by Howard Fast." It had been impossible in the period after hte Hungarian rising to credit him, for political reasons that I can't untangle but were a matter of life and death at the time. Fast had left the party, very publicly, when Kruschev revealed the crimes of Stalin, but what came first, I'm not sure.

If there's a connection to other versions, I haven't heard, but am curious. Probably synchronicity -- after World War 2, the idea of Spartacus was in hte air -- and indeed, Marx had held Spartacus up as the model of a hero of he people.

I think it's a great ballet -- maybe the only great ballet that's really ugly.

Small world.

#7 nysusan

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 10:18 PM

I think of Spartacus as a theatrical experience as much as a ballet. Kind of like a danced play. It certainly is epic. In commenting on their Don Q people have mentioned that the Bolshoi’s great strength is in the depth of their soloists and the cohesion of the company as a whole. In Don Q this was demonstrated again and again by soloists and corps members in wonderful character and soloist roles. Spartacus didn’t offer many individual opportunities beyond the 4 principle roles (ok, there was a gladiator and 3 very impressive shepherds, but it’s not the same kind of thing). There were some great individual performances, but in Spartacus the ensemble, the story and the staging were the stars.

I went to the Friday night and Saturday matinee performances. On Friday, I left the Opera house with images of Phrygia & Aegina emblazoned on my consciousness. That’s not a good thing when the ballet is supposed to be centered on the men’s roles. To be fair, I didn’t feel well on Friday night and had a difficult time focusing for parts of the evening, but still....

Klevtsov was Spartacus to Volchkov’s Crassus. It wasn’t as though I thought either of them were bad, they were both quite good. But I didn’t think either one was phenomenal, and I think Spartacus needs 2 male dancers with phenomenal leaping abilities and strong dance/acting skills in the lead roles if it’s really going to work. Both of them were able to synthesize the dancing and acting in a way that was very satisfying, but somehow it just didn’t compare with even the very vague memories I had of Vasiliev and Liepa from 30 years ago. And Klevtsov’s take on the role didn’t really seem very heroic to me. He gave us a deeply moving Spartacus in many ways - but he seemed defeated almost from the first, there was a fatalism about him. And at the end, he just seemed to give up and accept inevitable defeat. There was a lot more fight in Vorobiev’s Spartacus at the Saturday matinee, and I much preferred his interpretation.

Antonicheva was Phrygia on Friday night, and she was superb. She looks very big, not heavy but tall, with never ending extensions and a very long line and she gave a very big performance - lyrical and filled with pathos, devotion & dignity. I really liked Maria Allash as Aegina, another very tall Bolshoi ballerina but thin and with very long limbs. The sharpness and extreme extentions in Aegina’s choreography looked like it was tailor made for her. At least that’s what I thought right up until the very instant on Saturday afternoon when Shipulina took the stage in the same role. Wow. It may have been the most complete performance I’ve seen from a Bolshoi dancer yet. Allash was very, very good - evil & scheming. But Shipulina just oozed sex. She was imperious and scheming - in some ways she really overpowered her Crassus - she seemed to be the protagonist, always pushing him and spurring him on. Despite some of the extremely inventive lifts for Spartacus & Phrygia, Aegina really has the best dancing, or at least the most bravura dancing. Shipulia managed to invest those 180 degree splits and jetes, and those ear scraping devlopees with a creaminess and lasciviousness that was just amazing. Nina Kaptsova danced Phrygia at the matinee. She was lovely, but she is a small woman, and her Phrygia was danced on a much smaller scale than Antonicheva’s. Both Volchkov on Friday & Neporozny on Saturday were fine as Crassus. More than fine, really. I don’t want to make it sound like they didn’t do a good job, I just think I’m really spoiled from seeing ABT’s men on such a regular basis. Kept thinking about what it would have looked like with Acosta soaring above those Roman legions and Gomes rousing the gladiators...

Osipova was easy to pick out among the shepherdesses at both performances. I had mixed feelings about her variation in Don Q, but she’s certainly one to keep an eye out for along with Krysanova and Kobakhidze.

If anyone was at tonight’s performance, please report. The only reason I got tickets for the matinee was to catch Lunkina’s Phrygia, and then they bumped her up to the evening performance. I’d love to hear what people think of her in this role!

#8 zerbinetta

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 11:54 PM

nysusan, I don't think your unwellness Friday tainted your appreciation of Klevtsov. To my mind, the one essential ingredient in order for Spartacus to work is for the title character to have star power. He doesn't need to be a great classical dancer (Mukhamedov was very effective in the role) but he does need charisma & one needs to feel the power of his presence. Klevtsov just doesn't cut it. His weak dancing skills are less obvious here than they were in the Don Q on Tuesday & he is a ham handed partner, although he had the strength for that very long one handed lift, for which I was grateful.

Antonicheva was gorgeous! What a melting & luminous Phrygia. & such a musical dancer.

I did like Volchkov a lot. He seems a better classicist than most of their principal men so far seen & he had a genuine Roman flair.

I liked Allash less. My memories of Timofeyeva were left intact; she was far more vulgar & "out there" in her sexuality. Allash is wonderful in the character dances but not really up to Aegina, IMO. The role is in Alexandrova's rep; it's curious that she wasn't cast here. She would have been wonderful.

This is possibly the most wonderful bad ballet ever choreographed. I do think it would be great fun on ABT & had Acosta & Gomes in mind as well - but with each of them doing both roles, one against the other.

#9 drb

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 11:59 PM

On Friday the orchestra was again in 'full power' and the music was there to sway both the dancers and the hearers, THE theme, the one for Spartacus and Phrygia, raised the spirit, and often raised Phrygia with the help of one arm of Spartacus. Klevtsov may not have looked exacly like prototype Vasiliev, but he maintained intensity and he 'believed'. The audience warmed to his Herculean effort, and their feedback seemed to redouble the power of his portrayal. And the power of his dancing.
All four solists came through with worthy performances. Volchkov wasn't a cardboard badboy, he knew how to charm you, to make you like Crassus, making the baring of his true character all the more effective. The leaps of the two women told their character differences: the purity of Antonicheva/Phrygia's (relatively) classical soaring, a thrust to freedom; the eccessive extensions and distortions in Allash/Aegina's leaps, thrusts for power by manipulation. The corps seemed to take it all very seriously: this was no mincing army.
If we want Vasiliev and Liepa, well we won't see them and we will miss the show. But taking what was given, and a lot was given, this was a fine, living Spartacus. The audience was very rightly moved, and I think the dancers and orchestra were too. A wonderful ballet fan break early in Act 2, with the recruiting of the Shepherds into Spartacus' Army. The last of the five shepherdesses to leave the 'hill' was Natasha Osipova. A gift of respite, of joy, of purity, of dance before the war began.
At the beginning of the third Act the orchestra was given a mighty roar of appreciation, some lights were even turned on above them so they might bask in their glory. They had the house and they knew how to keep it with a mighty Act 3. From Phyrgia's leaving her tent, to her being joined by her doomed hero, Antonicheva was an Ikon of the Heroic ballerina, the reason to attend THIS performance, sweeping graceful blinding strings of beauty, the antithesis of the helpless princess waiting for her magic prince to save her. Instead it was real love for a real slave that would make them live in histroy forever. So far. Old political notions, we're older than that now.

#10 drb

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Posted 24 July 2005 - 12:13 PM

... it just didn’t compare with even the very vague memories I had of Vasiliev and Liepa from 30 years ago. ...   There was a lot more fight in Vorobiev’s Spartacus at the Saturday matinee, and I much preferred his interpretation.
... Kept thinking about what it would have looked like with Acosta soaring above those Roman legions and Gomes rousing the gladiators...

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What dream casting that would be, 'though I'm not so sure that ABT could carry the production as a whole the way that the Bolshoi does. But with American stars like Maria Kowroski (O/O) and Paloma Herrera (Kitri) guesting in Russia and the likes of Svetlana Zakharova (Nikiya) and Diana Vishneva (hopefully more than guesting) guesting here, why not Acosta/Gomes (and others; given his late season Rothbart, wouldn't Hallberg make a fascinating Crassus?) in the Bolshoi production? Won't they be travelling a lot the next two or three years? The way Spartacus sold out this weekend, NYC could easily support a couple more runs over that period. Indeed, Spartacus would probably sell out in any American city with a stage big enough to hold it. And a variety of ABT leads would increase the number of performances that would sell out.
Although I was lucky enough to see a number of Vasiliev/Liepa performances, it was never with a great Phrygia. The politics of casting in the old Soviet days. Vasiliev's wife, Ekaterina Miaximova was a great one, but at least on the tours I saw she was not allowed to come to America when he did (pointedly, they chose New York for their joint retirement performance, as I recall). But, later, I had the honor of seeing Nadezhda Pavlova in that role, just once. Knowing that there were no matches for V/L, I was motivated by the chance of seeing another great Phrygia. Also, it was the only performance assigned to the great Antonicheva in the entire two-week run. She did not disappoint. But I would bet that for a first seeing of the ballet, the heir-apparent for the role, Vorobiev, would have been the better choice. Please, could you tell us a bit more about his performance? Especially after Klevtsov's underwhelming Basilio (in fairness, a substitute situation, and not well-matched with Alexandrova), his effort as Spartacus was a happy surprise.

#11 Colleen Boresta

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Posted 24 July 2005 - 02:35 PM

I went to the Saturday matinee of “Spartacus”. Like nsusan, I went to see Lunkina. I loved her when I saw her in “Giselle” in 2000. But I have to say I did enjoy “Spartacus”. It was my first time to see it live. The music, the choreography and the costumes were all wonderful. And the male corps was outstanding. I think ABT’s male principals and soloists could do a great job in “Sparatcus”. I love nysusan’s idea of Acosta and Gomes playing the lead roles in “Spartacus”. But I really don’t think ABT’s male corps would be up to the job. I saw Alexander Vorobiev as Spartacus. He was okay, but not spectacular. His leaps were very good during the last scene of Act I, and in Act III right before he went to battle against Crassus. He did make very dramatic use of his arms however. And his two pas de deux with Nina Kaptsova as Phrygia were gorgeous. I really liked his one handed lift at the beginning of Act III. It seemed like Vorbiev walked forever with Kaptsova placed high above his head. It was very exciting.

I thought Vladimir Neporozny was very good as Crassus. He acted the part very well, and his air turns were very well done. I agree with nysusan that he was not quite up to the level of the ABT principals. He was much better than Vorobiev, however. I also agree with nysusan about the performances of Kaptsova, and Ekaterina Shipulina as Aegina. The woman sitting next to me said she thought Shipulina had a stiff neck, but I didn’t really see that. But overall, I enjoyed the ballet as a grand spectacle. And the music was great I’m definitely going to look for a cd of “Spartacus.”

#12 nysusan

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Posted 24 July 2005 - 04:04 PM

This is possibly the most wonderful bad ballet ever choreographed.

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Exactly - that’s a perfect description of it!

I do think it would be great fun on ABT & had Acosta & Gomes in mind as well - but with each of them doing both roles, one against the other.

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What a wonderful idea. But don’t you think some of the other men on ABT’s roster might object to a Gomes/Acosta marathon?

...What dream casting that would be, 'though I'm not so sure that ABT could carry the production as a whole the way that the Bolshoi does.

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  I think ABT’s male principals and soloists could do a great job in “Sparatcus”.  I love nysusan’s idea of Acosta and Gomes playing the lead roles in “Spartacus”.  But I really don’t think ABT’s male corps would be up to the job.

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I think ABT has some of the best male dancers in the world today, so it’s fun to speculate on what they could do with Spartacus - but you’re both right, the company as a whole would not do it justice - especially the male corps. Plus - it’s long, just over 3 hours and McKenzie would never stand for that. He’d probably eliminate 1 intermission, chop out at least 45 minutes of dancing and market it as a story about a man who had to make a choice between the woman he loves and the men he leads...

...   There was a lot more fight in Vorobiev’s Spartacus at the Saturday matinee, and I much preferred his interpretation...

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But I would bet that for a first seeing of the ballet, the heir-apparent for the role, Vorobiev, would have been the better choice. Please, could you tell us a bit more about his performance? Especially after Klevtsov's underwhelming Basilio (in fairness, a substitute situation, and not well-matched with Alexandrova), his effort as Spartacus was a happy surprise.

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I had no idea that Vorobiev was considered the “heir -apparent”, like Colleen I was just trying to see Lunkina! But after the ballet ended and I looked him up in the program I was surprised to see that he was listed at the lowest soloist level. Is he very young? He looked kind of small - small boned and fairly short. I was thinking during one of the intermissions that my ideal Bolshoi cast would be Vorobiev with Antonicheva, Shipulina and either Neporozny or Volchkov as Crassus (I liked them both) till I realized that Vorobiev was probably several inches shorter than Antonicheva - no way could he handle her in those lifts!

There are undoubtedly other posters who could be more specific in balletic terms about the differences between Kevtsov & Vorobiev, but I’ll tell you what I can. I felt that all of the dancers from top to bottom in both casts had a high level of intensity and really put the theatrics over well, but I noticed a little more ballon in Vorobiev’s dancing - the leaps seemed to hang in the air a little longer and the positions in the air may have been a little crisper. I thought Klevtov was very believable in the role, certainly very moving but the biggest difference for me was in their dramatic interpretations. They were both equally good at inhabiting the role of Spartacus , but I felt that Klevtsov’s was more of a tragic hero who accepted the destiny that was thrust upon him (including the inevitability of his defeat), whereas Vorobiev’s seemed to be a common man who rose to the challenge and fought till the end. Shipulina’s Aegina also made a big difference in the intensity level of the performance. In addition to her gorgeous, lush dancing, she also presented a very strong personality and another focal point for the drama.

#13 FauxPas

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 08:13 AM

I saw "Spartacus" on Friday night and enjoyed the production. I had only seen the film with Vasiliev and that is cut by a third or more. The length of the production surprised me. I am not sure whether this is a 20th century masterpiece or not. It held up a hell of a lot better than I thought it might. I find the choreography somewhat repetitive - Spartacus does a lot of jetés to express his quest for freedom and Crassus does a lot of spinning jumps to express his twisted need for power. Phrygia is a total weeping willow draped submissively over her man and Aegina is doing tortured high kicks and splits like the greedy bad-girl she is (and we love her for it!). The women have an ugly habit of grabbing the upraised leg or foot while turning in arabesque that is odd - almost like something from a Forsythe ballet. Phrygia has that trick of grabbing her toes and hanging off of Sparty like a Christmas ornament on a tree. Grigorivich also uses tableau quite effectively - the last image of Spartacus and Phrygia lifted up, etc. Other contemporary choreographers don't use this device older than ballet itself and it works so brilliantly in story ballets.

Funny thing is that it works - maybe just for one viewing - but there isn't a lot of grey in these characters - it is all black and white. Do other productions like the Australian Ballet version explore these characters more in the round?

I liked the very Russian fatalism of Klevtsov as Spartacus - of course in the 1960's the revolutionary had to be positive and upright even in defeat. The past three decades have seen the death of Communism and new (and old) problems take its place in Russia, so a sadder but wiser Spartacus seems appropriate given the historical perspective. He makes his statement to the world though it will bring his death - at least his death will make people believe in what he died for - or remember what dying for an ideal was supposed to be about. Plus I found Klevtsov quite hunky - beautiful tapering waist and V-shaped torso and long legs (lovely pecs and glutes as well). Volchkov had quite a bit of dance power as Crassus but no one projects sneering arrogance like Maris Liepa. He didn't quite have that level of projection or personality. The women I found more complete and powerful in their assumptions of their parts. Antonicheva has a gorgeous supple line and was moving in her internalized despair in the final scene. I think Aegina has the more interesting choreography and has more variety as a character, so Maria Allash made a stronger impression as a whole.

The company as a whole still has a deep investment in this work and a sense of how to make it work as an ensemble. The men and women have a kind of commitment and attack that gave a lot of pleasure. ABT despite its powerhouse male virtuosos couldn't put the piece over with that kind of homogenous style and authority.

#14 zerbinetta

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 02:55 PM

In Rockwell's review of Spartacus (today's Links), he tells us the Bolshoi hasn't done the ballet here in 30 years.

As Mukhamedov didn't begin performing the role until 1988 & performed it at the Met after that, it would appear a good deal less than 30 years since NY has seen Spartacus.

Is anyone else shocked at the lack of background & fact checking this indicates in the NYTimes first dance critic?

#15 Juliet

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 03:28 PM

"Is anyone else shocked at the lack of background & fact checking this indicates in the NYTimes first dance critic?"

No.


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