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Spartacus: Australian Ballet, September 2018


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When I found out that TAB was presenting a new version of Spartacus in 2018, I was not amused. Just what ballet needs right now: another gendered production with strong men performing unbelievable leaps while their female counterparts twirl decoratively with or without tutus. I was wrong. Lucas Jervies, the choreographer, states firmly (and accurately) in an interesting article in the Guardian (I've put the web address below), that gender did not feature at all in the choreography. Rather, he was exploring ways of making the Roman experience accessible to a contemporary audience.

I found the work profoundly disturbing, and given the terrible nature of the story, and its resonances with the contemporary world (making the world of Rome accessible to audiences today), that's not surprising. But I'm not sure if I liked it or not.

Things I really liked: the relationship between Spartacus and his wife, Flavia - an equal, caring, passionate relationship. The chemistry between Kevin Jackson (Spartacus)  and Robyn Hendricks (Flavia) was palpable, as seen in a couple of beautiful pdd, tender, gentle and yearning.  This relationship was contrasted with that between Crassus, the Roman general (Ty King-Wall), a man with no redeeming features, and his wife Tertulia (Amy Harris, who was made a principal at the end of the show). A much more conventional relationship: dominant man, submissive wife. It was this contrast that for me constituted the axis of the work. 

The fight scenes: beautifully choreographed.

The costumes and sets (Jerome Kaplan), simple, stark, stripped back.

The lighting  (Benjamine Cisterne), evocative.

And finally, the symbol of (Roman) victorious power - a clenched fist with the first digit raised heavenward. Very obvious, but strangly compelling, and giving the dancers an immediately comprehensible oppositional gesture as they struck down the raised finger again and again. This symbol dominates the first scene, a victory parade of captured prisoners, lead by lines of red flags flouished in unison: all too reminiscent of Hitler's celebrations, not to mention rallies in the Cultural Revolution.

Things I did not like: Act 2 was set in Crassus's villa.  A little too Satyricon for me. I lie. It was far too Satyricon for me. I felt the fell hand of Hollywood in the potrayal, and for me the imperative of story-telling overwhelmed the demands of ballet. A pity also that the debauched excesses of some of the later emperors have come to characterise the whole Roman era, including that of the late republic. Thanks, Hollywood. 

On re-reading this, it looks as if the reasons for liking the ballet, and seeing it again, far outweigh the reasons for not liking it, and from the balletic point of view, that is true. But I found the parallels with today's world (which were lightly drawn and which were probably mainly in my head), were strong enough to leave me feeling profoundly uncomfortable. So I'm not sure whether I will see it again when it comes to Sydney. 

 

*http://www.theguardian.com/the-australian-ballet-reimagined/2018/jul/05/casting-off-the-shackles-of-traditional-ballet

Edited by jmb
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Parallels meant, apparently. Currently on a train (taking 4½ hours to go 300km because not allowed to go over 100km/h) en route to my first viewing of this Spartacus

 

Thank you for your detailed critique, yet without spoilers! Very neatly done.

On 20/09/2018 at 11:53, jmb said:

But I found the parallels with today's world (which were lightly drawn and which were probably mainly in my head)

 

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1 hour ago, Sim said:

Thanks for your review, jmb.  Sophoife, please post up your thoughts too....if you ever get there!!  :)

 

That's actually normal for trains from The Country to The City here, Sim. They're not allowed to go faster and if it's hot (like, 30+ C) they are slowed to 80km/h on some parts because the tracks suffer from the heat.

 

I am going to need to see this Spartacus at least another couple of times to properly assess it, and my idea of Crassus comes from Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series, where he was basically likeable! He was co-consul with Pompey the Great and then with Pompey and Caesar.

 

Brief impressions for right now: the haka, the knife-like Tertulla, and the suddenly-touching effect Robyn Hendricks' Flavia had on me in the final scene. Most unexpected, but of course welcome.

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My DD and I need to book our tickets for the Sydney run asap!

 

Kevin Jackson is so bulked up for this role.  He will make a very different Prince in The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker - Dec at ROH.

 

 

 

Edited by DD Driver
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He is huge! And with one of the other Spartacuses (Spartaci?), Marcus Morelli, on stage with him, and having seen Jarryd Madden two weeks ago in Giselle, I can say it's only Kevin who's that big. Cristiano Martino debuts this afternoon and from what I've seen of him I think he'll be a very sexy Spartacus 😊

 

Further opinion: the sheer beauty of the dancing of both Ty King-Wall (Crassus) and Brett Chynoweth (Caius). What a treat.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I never did post properly, just a few impressionistic phrases.

 

I quite like the music, but don't usually listen to the whole score like I can with some other ballet scores. It is so Sovietly-heavy in places that I do find it hard going at times. The set is very simple in its colour palette, and simple in design, too, but on a massive scale. The pointing finger ought to come crashing down at the end of act I but it is neatly folded down instead - you can see the hinges if you use your binoculars! The costumes are very simple - for the gladiators, high-waisted pants (think Petite Mort and you've almost exactly got them except they come in a range of colours). for the enslaved Thracian women, diaphanous blue-grey tunics, although Flavia somehow manages to find a change of clothes in the interval between Acts II and III. The Roman (male) oppressors wear trousers, long-sleeved tunic tops, and often a long drape of fabric that gives the effect of a toga. Their WAGs wear body-revealing sparkly things. And headdresses.

 

Yes, Kevin Jackson hugely bulked up, but oddly, apart from his upper body, only his thighs, not his calves! It did have a deleterious effect on his line. None of the other gladiators was anywhere near as bulky, and to my eyes it looked too much. He should have defeated slim-line Andrew Killian much more quickly than he did - it looked like one body-slam would have been enough. Robyn Hendricks was simply brilliant as Flavia, strong and brave but still delicate. Brett Chynoweth danced beautifully, as did Ty King-Wall as Crassus, and Amy Harris' Tertulla was clearly living on her body's attractions, although when Crassus was defeated she still clung to him.

 

The combats were all created by fight director Nigel Poulton and choreographer Lucas Jervies, they were very well done, it looked like real fighting. But what the heck is going on with all that haka-style movement? You know, demi-pliés in second while slapping thighs, beating chests, and slapping biceps!

 

Act II (Crassus' villa) was in some ways the balletic equivalent of one of those decadent scenes in I, Claudius - steam coming out of baths, nekkid Romans and WAGs writhing in baths (both alone and together), slave women being treated appallingly, and my LOL moment - Chynoweth leaping on his wife, played by Natasha Kusen (RBS US alumna thanks to the Prix de Lausanne), and the pair of them rolling around on the floor. When the gladiators snuck in and murdered people in their baths, it worked very well.

 

Act III opened with Flavia and Spartacus' pdd which if Jackson had been a little bit less bulky would have been Very Nice Indeed. Yes, they're real flames in those firepits. Marcus Morelli and a couple of others tried to rebel against Spartacus' leadership, but were persuaded back into the fold just in time for the Roman army to come and arrest them all. Now they're all coming back in dragging tall plinths, which they place in a diagonal line from upstage left to downstage right, and then each gladiator is helped to jump up by two Roman soldiers. They're being crucified. So why the heck is every one of them drenched in blood from the scalp down? I was unaware that pre-crucifixion preparation included scalping. Standing up on those plinths with their arms extended looked excruciating. They had to stand there for quite some time while Crassus gloated, and Flavia danced a sorrowful solo.

 

Overall I would see it again, in fact I need to in order to form a more coherent opinion. I think a trip to Sydney in November is on the cards ...

Edited by Sophoife
whoops, forgot the haka
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  • 1 month later...
On 17/11/2018 at 19:19, Sim said:

I hope you weren’t there, Sophoife!

Thanks Sim, sadly finances and work commitments dictated foregoing Spartacus in Sydney in favour of Cinderella (also in Sydney) with Alexander Campbell and Leanne Stojmenov who I love and whose retirement show it will be. I will have to catch Spartacus on its next run, whenever that may be.

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