Sunday, 11 August 2019


Hermann Vogel "Death of Spartacus"

Bolshoi Ballet Spartacus  10 Aug 2019 14:00 Royal Opera House

Ever since I saw a streaming of the ballet from Moscow nearly 6 years ago  I have longed to see it on stage. I have had a long wait because few if any Western companies seem to perform the work and certainly no British ones.  This year, however, the Bolshoi included Spartacus in its London season so I traipsed down to London yesterday to see it.   The ticket in the centre of row G of the stalls wasn't cheap. Neither was the rail fare. The rail network was all over the place as a result of the high winds and the aftermath of Friday's power outage. Nevertheless, I can think of no better use of my time or a better way to spend my money.  I have been going to the ballet for nearly 60 years and see about 50 shows a year.  Rarely have I been more excited by a performance than I was yesterday by the Bolshoi's performance of Spartacus,

As I summarized the plot and discussed the background to the ballet in Spartacus - Streamed Direct to Wakefield 21 Oct 2013, I need not repeat them here. There is, in any case, a full synopsis on the Bolshoi's website and even a video of a performance of the whole ballet adapted for the screen featuring the incoming director of Birmingham Royal Ballet on YouTube.  The show that I saw yesterday featured Igor Tsvirko and Ruslan Skvortsov as Spartacus and Crassus and Margarita Shrayner and Ekaterina Krysanova as Phrygia and Aegina. 

I had already seen Tsvirko on screen in the peasant pas de deux in Giselle (see The Bolshoi does the Business - Giselle streamed from Moscow 12 Oct 2015), the jester in Swan Lake  (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Bradford 25 Jan 2015), Count Pepinelli in Marco Spada (see Marco Spada Streamed from Moscow 31 March 2014) and the jester in A Legend of Love (see The Bolshoi's "A Legend of Love" streamed from Moscow 27 Oct 2014).  Magnificent though he was on screen he is so much more impressive in person.  His strength and endurance are amazing,  Spartacus is a long ballet and he is on stage for most of the show.  There were frequent bursts of applause as he demonstrated that strength such as hoisting Shrayner into the air with one hand as though she were a feather.

The last time the Bolshoi came to London I saw Skvortsov dance Siegfried in Swan Lake  (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016).  Although I thought that the Bolshoi has better shows and other companies have better Swan Lakes I enjoyed Skvortsov's performance very much.  I listed Skvortsov as one of the outstanding male dancers of 2016. I had also noticed him in the screenings of A Hero of Our Time, The Bright Stream and The Golden AgeIntensely good looking, his was the first face that appears on stage from the centre of a testudo stamping his feet and brandishing a fasces. Another dancer of prodigious strength and agility.

I cannot recall watching Shrayner dance before but she is beautiful. She has a face that communicates emotion like few others.  One of my friends who knows Spartacus well described it as a man's ballet. That is true because both the gladiators and legionnaires as well as the leading artists perform spectacular feats of endurance attracting ripples of applause throughout the show. But it is also a ballet about two strong women and Phrygia's role is by far the more dignified and graceful,  The one bit of the ballet that the British public knows well is the theme from the Onedin Line largely because the show was never off our TV screens when I was young. That is, of course, Phrygia's solo and pas de deux with Spartacus and I could not help rooting for a tissue as she danced that piece.

I was already a big fan of Krysanova before yesterday's matinee.  I loved her performance as Kathrona in Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew which is now one of my all-time favourite ballets (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016).  She was a great Kitri in Don Quixote which I saw on screen in April 2016.  Katharina and Kitri are heroines but Aegina is very different.  There is a telling scene immediately after the legions goosestep off to slay the slaves when Aegina appears goosestepping like the soldiers.  She had just lifted the defeated Crassus out of his despair after losing his fight with Spartacus, given him back his sword and filled him with a desire for vengeance.  I admire her all the more for that.

When you watch a show from the amphitheatre as I did when I was a Young Friend the auditorium seems cavernous.  When you sit a few rows from the orchestra the House is intimate.  You feel the audience around you.  When an audience fires up as it did yesterday there can be no experience in the theatre more thrilling.  Yesterday, the audience was boiling.  That brought out the best in the artists - the musicians under Pavel Klinichev as well as the dancers.  It was a performance that I think I shall remember for the rest of my life.

PS  I said that I was no British company had ever performed Spartacus but Sarah Lambert has sent me this footage of a rehearsal by Jenna Roberts & Iain Mackay of Birmingham Royal Ballet which suggests that I may be wrong.   At least bits of it appear to have been performed in Symphony Hall and Northampton.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

In Mist and Rain

Standard YouTube Licence

Arts of China In Mist and Rain 8 Aug 2019 19:30 Manchester Central Exchange Auditorium

Yesterday I was one of the guests at the premiere of In Mist and Rain, a remarkable collaboration between Chinese finest artists and talented young dancers working in the United Kingdom. One of those talented local dancers was Bo Zhang who danced in the premiere of Powerhouse Ballet's Aria at The Dancehouse on 4 May 2019.  It was she who kindly invited me to that performance

In Mist and Rain was inspired by a poem of Su Shi who lived from 1037 to 1131.  From the little I have been able to find out from my researches for this review, Su Shi is one of the greats of Chinese literature, but he seems to have been much more than a poet. Wikipedia describes him as Minister of Rites, poet, essayist, painter, calligrapher and statesman. The translation of the poem in our programme notes was "Calming the Wave". I believe that the original was 定風波 and, if I am right, I have found a delightful translation by Alice Poon in The Monday Poem > "Calming Wind and Wave" by Su Shi (a Song poet) - Oct. 6, 2014. It puts me in mind of Horace's Solvitur acris hiems.

The work was created by Leon to music by Zhao Nan and Sun Ye, One of those composers was in the theatre for questions and answers after the show. He explained that he had written Autumn and Winter while his collaborator had composed Spring and Summer. Though firmly anchored in Chinese classical tradition they had used Western classical idioms and some Western instruments as well as Chinese ones with the result that it was pleasing to my occidental ear at least.

 Much the same was true of the choreography which started with a figure proceeding across the stage while another was struggling with a burden. There were some bits such as a duet between the leading lady and the male lead that could have been in a ballet.  There were other scenes where members of the corps (for want of a better word) seemed to take a few steps and retire. I was mindful that this was an art form that had existed much longer in China than ballet had existed in the West and that I was absorbing it only at the most superficial level.

Of course, sets, costumes and lighting and the production as a theatrical experience can be appreciated even by those who are new to Chinese dance and I did.  The set was plain with a single tree illuminated obliquely.  The lighting throughout the show was restrained but not to the point that the dancers were obscure. The costumes were gorgeous as were some of the props like a red parasol with ribbons below which the male and female lead progressed.  "A bride and bridegroom, perhaps?" I thought.

This was a great theatrical experience and I congratulate everyone who took part.  In particular, I single out Susie Lu who founded Arts of China and produced In Mist and Rain.

On the "About Us" page of its website, Arts of China describes itself as a world-class company that combines education with entertainment.  Classes in Chinese dance are available at The Dancehouse in Manchester and I have often commended the students' performances in my reviews of MoveIt. The company will perform In Mist and Rain at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre between 13:00 and 14:00 on Saturday, 10 Aug.  If you can get to Edinburgh this afternoon, you will be rewarded with a splendid spectacle.