• David Motta Soares and Anastasia Denisova. Photo: Darren Thomas.
    David Motta Soares and Anastasia Denisova. Photo: Darren Thomas.

Lyric Theatre, QPAC, 27 June and 29 June

After six years the Bolshoi is back in Brisbane with two ballets, both created by Russian choreographers in the 1960s, yet vastly different from one another – dramatically and stylistically. Both, however, epitomise the Bolshoi’s reputation for grandiosity and brilliance.

Igor Tsvirko as Spartacus and Margarita Shrayner as Phygria. Photo: Darren Thomas.
Sublime: Igor Tsvirko as Spartacus and Margarita Shrayner as Phygria. Photo: Darren Thomas.

Spartacus, created by Yuri Grigorovich in 1968 to the Aram Khachaturyan score, opened the ten-day Brisbane season. A product of the Soviet era, lovingly preserved, it is a beast of a ballet over three acts and lasting some three hours. Its now rather anachronistic choreographic style, with echoes of 1920s constructivism in its use of grand tableaux and mass movement of dancers, may not have the novelty factor it once did, but the dancers’ commitment to this performance nevertheless garnered a wildly enthusiastic response.

A passionate tragedy about tyranny, Spartacus reminds us of the Bolshoi style we are familiar with – expansive, unrestrained and heroic. Igor Tsvirko, as Spartacus, embodies these qualities. His raw, impassioned interpretation of the doomed hero was electrifying, expressed with a breathtaking elevation that cut high into the space above the stage.

As his sweetheart Phrygia, Margarita Shrainer gave an exquisitely moving performance. Her famous love duet with Spartacus was sublime (they are apparently, partners in real life), with the thrilling single-handed presage lift, faultlessly executed.

Olga Smirnova, as the scheming courtesan, Aegina, was also superb – imperious, conniving, and lusciously sensuous, her sinuous arms and legs alluringly wrapping around the narcissistic tyrant Crassus. As Crassus, Alexander Volchkov became much more convincing into the second act, where the work really takes off.

This is a ballet for the men, oozing machismo as they stride, heel first across the stage, with arm gestures that are powerful, open-handed and grounded in realism. Together with the women, who all have impossibly long legs chiselled to a beautifully articulate point, they made a powerful chorus to tell this tale of heroism and romance.

'Spartacus' is a ballet for men. Photo: Darren Thomas.

The set (Simon Virsaladze) is grand in scale, but simple in design. Two massive, roughly hewn "stone" arches frame the stage, their monochromatic grey and white colour palette a foil for the yellow and gold costuming of the Romans and strident reds of Spartacus and the slaves.

From its beginning to the final masterful tableau where Phrygia grieves over the body of Spartacus, what would otherwise be a Soviet museum piece, becomes, in the hands of these dancers, a classic.

The Bolshoi introduced Jewels into its repertoire in 2012, although it originally premiered in 1967. Both showy and elegant, and a test of any company’s measure, it was conceived by George Balanchine for New York City Ballet in homage to the jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels. It is in three acts – "Emeralds", "Rubies" and "Diamonds" – each with its own rich score, its own colour palette, and its own mood. The only story is that contained in the movement itself.

The first act, “Emeralds”, to extracts of Faure’s Pelleas and Melisande and Shylock, opens with an exquisite tableau, the grouped dancers in romantic tutus of rich emerald. The mood is reflective, suggesting 19th century Romanticism with its lyrical inter-weaving of the dancers forming a myriad of moving patterns, soft fluidity of arm movements and sweeping leaps leading into luscious back bends with expansive epaulement. The simple but mesmerising central pas de deux, (Anastasia Denisova and David Motta Soares), displays the ballerina in a series of slow walks en pointe and promenades, as she is guided around the stage by her attentive partner.

Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko. Photo: Darren Thomas.
Competing for supremacy: Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko. Photo: Darren Thomas.

The jazzy syncopation of Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra inspires the upbeat contemporary style of “Rubies”. High off-balance developés, hips thrusting forward, stepping on the heels, and flexing of the wrists are motifs often repeated. Showing their legs to advantage, the women’s short red tunics, accentuate the style and its contemporaneity.

Soloist Olga Marchenkova was in turn dominating and flirty as she toyed with her four suitors, with a thrusting hip or high kick over their heads, while lead couple Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko competed for virtuosic supremacy, in a light-hearted but dazzling pas de deux of plunging penchés, high extensions and flying jetés.

“Diamonds” set to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D Major, with its obvious references to the past glories of the Imperial Ballet, showed the Bolshoi dancers most at home. Against a starlit backcloth of deep blue, their white tutus and tunics glittering with Swarovski crystals make a striking picture. The act begins with an elegant waltz, which seems to honour Petipa in its use of familiar patterning and port de bras.

The central grand pas de deux, however, is where the magic of this act lies. Serene and eloquent, Alyona Kovalyova and Jacopo Tissi were magnificent in this slowly unfolding homage to the conventions of balletic courtship. There was an audible intake of breath at its end as Tissi dropped to his knee to kiss Kovalyova’s hand. Intoxicating!

This act's glittering finale of seventeen couples, the women now wearing long white gloves, is visually breathtaking. Stylistically formal and majestic, it made a spectacular climax to the evening, brilliantly performed.

It must be mentioned that supporting both these performances with considerable skill was the accomplished Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Pavel Sorokin.

Bravo to all!

– Denise Richardson

The Bolshoi's season in Brisbane concludes July 7.

Pictured top: David Motta Soares and Anastasia Denisova with dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet in "Emeralds". Photo: Darren Thomas.

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