Aram Khachaturyan's Spartacus is the most sensational achievement of Vladimir Kekhman's first season as manager of the Mikhailovsky Theatre.
The production is full of opulent retro pageantry, in sharp contrast with the minimalism that reigns on the contemporary stage. A huge rotating set becomes in turn gladiators' barracks, the circus, Crassus's banquet hall and the battlefield. The costumes, weaponry and all the other props meticulously reproduce the Roman originals. Music director Vladimir Rylov has enriched the orchestral score with a chorus in the style of ancient Greek and Roman theatre. Their solemn Latin singing adds an extra layer of colour to Khachaturyan's polyphony.
Opinions clash round Spartacus at the Mikhailovsky. Many don't approve of Kovtun's unassuming choreography, worlds away from the profound symbolism of the ballet's previous productions. Others applaud him as trailblazer. Critics aside, it is certainly a treat, with delightful, familiar music and showy props.
But the rumour which appeared the most preposterous is perfectly true. There is a live tiger on the stage. It is caged in act one, as a background for the hero's solo, and returns free at the start of act two, when its trainer, dressed as a Roman lady, walks it to the front of the stage.
Apart from Spartacus, the Mikhailovsky will show Giselle and a ballet evening at the Coliseum during its London performances from July 22-27.
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