Cheese comes in many forms. The variety on offer for the opening night of Spartacus kicking off the Bloshoi’s season in London was particularly ripe. The waltzing oom-pah of Arma Khachaturian’s lurid score almost distracted us from the goose-stepping ragged Roman army. Their wooden swords, hand-painted helmets and shields had the worn lustre of the am dram costume cupboard. The Roman’s wigs were straight out of central casting – Crassus’s (Alexander Volchkov) was resplendent in pressed curls and highlights, more Julian Clary than Julius Caesar. And Spartacus’s fellow escapees were as much scarecrows as slaves on the run. Such are the tawdry aesthetics of late 60’s Soviet theatrical style. Lest I go overboard, I shall only say the sets had the daube-like quality of work by enthusiastic ten-year-olds.
With such teeth-sticking diary product on display I bow to the genius that is the Bolshoi company. They transcended this tackiness like a troupe of jet-propelled superheroes.
The Bolshoi have a ballet technique that feels less as if it was drummed into them from an early age than if their bodies were somehow formed by the technique itself. And yet their bodies are not some platonic ideal of ballet loveliness, although the perfect lines carried by several of the corps were divine.
Take Nina Kaptsova (see picture), who danced the role of Phyrgria – Spartacus’s amour. Her limbs are bird-thin and her face a gaunt, she barely looks strong enough to stand let alone manage the gruelling demands of the role. Yet, when her arms are in 5th position – raised above her head – their straightness combined with her lowered shoulders and extended fingers become stems of some exquisite human flower. Held aloft in gravity-defying lifts – her limbs became less human again becoming symbols of human fragility.
Yet she is a pale shadow to the evening’s main event, Ivan Vasiliev’s Spartacus. This man was the reason we leapt to our feet at the final curtain. For he had stunned us with each split-jete en tourant, each tumble and fouette - his upper torso and face thrust at the ceiling as if this time he might, just might break the laws of gravity and take flight.
With his raven curled locks, Rasputin-like dark eyes and the ability to embody character with Stanislavian intensity, Vasiliev just might be the lord of the dance.