When in Rome

The Moscow Classical Ballet performs ‘Spartacus.’

The Moscow Classical Ballet performs ‘Spartacus’ (photo credit: PR)
The Moscow Classical Ballet performs ‘Spartacus’
(photo credit: PR)
The word “ballet” evokes very specific images: classical music, men in tights, and women in tutus, tiaras and pointe shoes. However, ballet is not by any means limited to the whimsical world of The Nutcracker. The art form can be many great things – stunning, impressive, beautiful and also provocative. The latter is the word that has been used most often to describe the Moscow Classical Ballet’s Spartacus.
When artistic directors Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilyov revealed the production, it was to myriad reviews. On one hand, the expert dancing wowed even the most skeptical viewer. On the other hand, the costumes, set and props were so overwhelmingly decadent and different that many had a hard time taking it all in. It was a ballet unlike any the Russian audience had ever seen before.
This month, the Moscow Classical Ballet will visit Israel for a four-city tour, with stops in Beersheva, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This is the company’s first engagement in Israel.
Spartacus is a narrative ballet in two acts that tells the story of a gladiator and his quest to free thousands of Roman slaves. The dancers are required not only to move beautifully but also to act out a number of dramatic scenes, including combat and romantic scenes. To make the battles as convincing as possible, Kasatkina and Vasilyov brought celebrated stuntman Alexander Malsheyev into the studio. Hundreds of costumes were handmade for the 50 dancers in this production, accented by headdresses, jewelry and makeup.
Kasatkina and Vasilyov met as young dancers at the legendary Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. It was there that they were first introduced to Spartacus.
“The first version of Spartacus was directed by Igor Moiseyev for the Bolshoi in 1954,” explains Kasatkina. “Moiseyev educated us about the history of the Roman Empire, which stirred up a lot of interest on this topic.”
Spartacus was, in fact, the last ballet that Moiseyev would create for the Bolshoi. The production was not a success, having only nine performances before fading into oblivion.
Several years after Moiseyev revealed his Spartacus, the Bolshoi Theater commissioned choreographer Leonid Yakobson to reinterpret the movement in a new version of the ballet.
“I danced the part of Phrygia in that second version. I fell in love with the music then,” says Kasatkina.
In 1967, when Moiseyev founded the Youth Ballet (now the Moscow Classical Ballet), Kasatkina and Vasilyov decided to join him. In 1978, the two took over the reins of the company and have since produced more than 50 full-length performances. The troupe has been home to a long list of up-andcoming ballet stars, attracting graduates from the Moscow Choreographic Institute and the Vaganova Academy of St.
As directors of their own company, Kasatkina and Vasilyov decided to create their own version of Spartacus, using the entirety of Khachaturian’s composition for the first time ever.
“During the Soviet era, some details concerning Roman history and way of life were left out of the narration, as they were considered too decadent. Khachaturian, who was our great friend, was quite upset that the final version of the Bolshoi didn’t have all his music in it,” explains Kasatkina. “On the 100th anniversary of his birth, we paid tribute to his memory by performing some of the abandoned score of the first version of Spartacus. We brought those missing pieces back to the audience again,” Kasatkina recounts.
As Russian artists, Kasatkina and Vasilyov are familiar with censorship.
“When we started out, our work was strictly supervised. Any freedom we could express in response to this censorship was greatly appreciated by the audience,” she recalls.
As the years passed, conservatism gave way to openness. Celebrating their creative, uncensored freedom, Kasatkina and Vasilyov have made a Spartacus that is rich in costumes, sensuality and movement.
The Moscow Classical Ballet will present Spartacus at the Beersheba Performing Arts Center on February 19; at the Haifa International Convention Center on February 20; at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on February 21; and at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on February 22 and 23.
Tickets are available at www.eventim.co.il.