PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 September, 2008, 12:00am


The Bolshoi Ballet

HK Cultural Centre Grand Theatre

Reviewed: Sept 17

All great ballet companies have their own character, and no ballet exemplifies the Bolshoi like Spartacus, which they presented in Hong Kong for the first time last Wednesday. Choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich in 1968, it remains the definitive production for Aram Khachaturian's magnificent score.

Grigorovich isn't the most subtle or innovative of choreographers , but he knows how to tell a story strongly through dance and he is a master of theatre, as the unforgettable ending of Spartacus demonstrates. Choreographically, the ballet is distinguished by the power of its mass dancing scenes and the portrayal of its four central characters.

Grigorovich employs distinct styles for the Romans and the rebels and, as in the music, effective use is made of leitmotif in the signature steps of each character.

The Bolshoi's dancers have always been distinguished by their physical power, their outstanding elevation and the passion with which they perform. In the title lead was one of the most brilliant heirs to this heritage, Ivan Vasiliev, dancing only his third Spartacus.

Technically he is astounding: his jumps are breathtaking, his turns awe-inspiring. His stamina, control and partnering are exceptional for such a young dancer and his opening solo was beautifully expressive. At 19, he does not yet have the gravitas to be a fully convincing Spartacus, but it seems likely he will become one of the role's greatest interpreters.

As the Roman general Crassus, Alexander Volchkov (left) painted a vivid portrait of a man possessed by arrogance and bloodlust. The choreography for the role is exceptionally demanding, with complex jumps that require sudden changes of direction, and Volchkov performed superbly.

As his mistress Aegina, Galina Stepanenko gave a bold, athletic performance, flinging herself into spectacular lifts with abandon and producing sensational pirouettes and chaines.

Special praise is due to Anna Nikulina as the heroine, Phrygia. A young soloist who had never danced the part before, Nikulina took over at short notice when Nina Kaptsova was unable to appear. She rose to the challenge with a well-danced, expressive interpretation which was rightfully applauded by her fellow dancers at the curtain call.

The evening was completed by a stunning rendition of the score from the splendid Bolshoi Orchestra conducted by Pavel Klinichev.