For those who adore anything the Bolshoi Ballet does or who are rightly fans of either of their two male stars, Vladimir Vasiliev and Marius Liepa, this will be a treat. For those who love SPARTACUS (the ballet) and Khachaturian's music, it is second best.
This 1977 stage production was filmed in the Soviet Union and released to art film theaters in 1979. It has dated badly. True film stock in the decade of the 70s was almost universally poor with grain and poor color. Even when one remembers that it probably cost a small fortune for the Soviets to mount and film this, the end product from the purely "film" aspect is inadequate.
The color is very drained - reminding one of two-strip Technicolor - blues and reds predominate. There are very few close-ups. The focus is off throughout so everyone appears very fuzzy and faces are blurred. Also I found none of the choreography of any interest - choreographer Yuri Grigorovich spent his time forcing classical steps into the storyline, rather than having the unique and "modern" storyline reinterpret conventional ballet steps.
Vasiliev and Liepa "act" extremely well - as Spartacus and Crassus, respectively. To a lesser extent, Natalia Bessamertnova as Friggia and Nina Timofeyeva as Eghina are adequate but are kept from "delivering" dramatically.
Finally, this production has been cut to 95 minutes.
The ballet plot lines are thus: Crassus leads his troops in a display of power. Spartacus and Friggia, slaves and he a gladiator, express their love in a pas de deux, before Crassus soldiers drag Friggia away to his banquet. She dances at the banquet and Crassus amuses his guests with two masked gladiators. They cannot see their opponents and when Spartacus kills his rival, he is distraught to learn his identity. The slaves train to revolt under Spartacus' leadership. Spartacus and Friggia share a classic pas de deux, expressing their love. Crassus and Eghina do as well. Crassus and Spartacus meet on the field of battle and Spartacus defeats him, but spares him. Crassus musters his troops. Eghina spies on Spartacus camp and learns his plans. While Spartacus and his troops go off to fight, Eghina enters the camp and dances for them while Crassus troops surround them. In the final battle, Spartacus is conquered and killed. Friggia laments him.
Now, if this was all we had, we'd have to be satisfied. But recently the Australian Ballet recreated SPARTACUS with a beautiful, youthful cast (Steven Heathcote, Lisa Pavane) with brilliantly conceived choreography, lighting and visuals and videotaped it to great success at a complete running time of slightly over two hours. This is the SPARTACUS to own and treasure.
The Vasiliev version becomes supplementary and of historic importance only in light of the Australian Ballet's brilliant rethinking of the piece. If one could only afford one of these tapes, it's safest to go with the Australian Ballet's.
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