You’ve got to see this, folks!
01.02.2017 - 05.02.2017
‘Spartacus’ is one of the flagship ballet productions in Minsk – the other being ‘Romeo & Juliet”, both staged by the renown choreographer Valentin Jelizariev.
Patience, this is going to be a long story…
I was sitting in the hotel Sputnik, thinking what to do on my first day in Minsk. There were local news on TV, a film about Minsk Opera followed (very timely!). Jelizariev spoke about his 30-years’ long career as the head of the Minsk ballet; he mentioned among other things that ‘Spartacus’ seldom appears on the stage these days, and that’s a shame indeed.
I took notice. That night I watched ‘Romeo & Juliet’ with Anton Kravchenko as the mighty arrogant Tybald. I thought right away that with this impressive physique he would make an exceptional Spartacus, the leader of the oppressed.
Two years passed…
Last winter I gave myself a birthday present - a do-it-yourself theatre trip to Minsk Opera. It’s no problem to buy tickets on-line, by the way – you are redirected to the ticket agency ‘Kvitki (translated as exactly ‘tickets’), and with a commission of just 1 (one!) euro you have a very smooth transaction, you print your tickets – et voila! – you are in.
I’ll take another time to write about the theatre itself, as it is very much worth a separate review. Now to this outstanding production.
Modern and classic at the same time, that is not repulsively modern, with ugly turns and unnatural positions, but something new and fresh, humane and profoundly touching. And it’s completely different from both wider known interpretations by the Mariinsky’s Leonid Jacobson and Jury Grigorovich of the Moscow Bolshoi.
It’s hardly a surprise that Spartacus is a national success here. Do you know that Aram Khachaturian, the composer, was first drawn to this story in December 1941, when the enemy was literally at our gate – in the outskirts of Moscow? The frightening brassy Roman march, the traditional hand-in-the-air salutations, the invader troops killing and enslaving locals – the ballet was first staged in Minsk in 1980, and all this could not but revive the fresh memories of the Second World War, when Belarus lost 25 to 30% of its pre-war population. The costume designers did not have to resort to cheap tricks like dressing the cast in nazi uniforms; it is the very air, the gestures and mimic that speaks.
Spartacus – Anton Kravchenko
Mr.Kravchenko was definitely the star of the night; he was just born for this part. Taller and bigger than most ballet dancers, he makes a very realistic figure as a popular leader, towering over his fellow rebels and Roman soldiers alike. On top of that he shows an undeniable charisma, in ‘war’ as much as in ‘peace’ scenes.
Crass – Oleg Jeromkin
This Roman warrior looks more vain and lusty than mighty and threatening, but altogether very skillfully danced
Frigia – Liudmila Khitrova
Ballerinas are supposed to have rather reduced weight, otherwise how would male dancers lift them; but Miss Khitrova looked so slim and even fragile that one could start being worried if it were not for her perfect dancing technique. Her duets with the tall and well-built Mr. Kravchenko looked especially moving, you can see it on the main photo of the theatre booklet
They have democratic ways here – today you play the leading part, tomorrow you are a support. One of the four gladiators was Jegor Azarkevich – I wrote about him in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ piece. Another was Takatoshi Machiama, a Japanese fellow – I do not know how he found himself so far from his Pacific ocean islands, but apparently it made sense, as he is already a prize-winner of several International competitions.
The orchestra under the theatre’s leading ballet conductor Nikolai Koliadko played with inspiration and did credit to Aram Khachaturian’s powerful and penetrating music.
I just got to know that choreographer Jelizariev will be 70 next October. The theatre is staging a great festival to his honour, while he is planning to edit his legendary ‘Spartacus’ to better suit the new dancers. I may be one of the last spectators of the old one!