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Being Spartacus

Being Spartacus

Spartacus, a ballet in three acts by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, is known for its lively rhythms and strong energy. It was premiered by the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1956, and its revised form was debuted in 1968 by the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.

Watch the video

In the video below, Sergei Polunin is featured as Spartacus. We also see him as Crassus, the anti-hero, whom he often portrays equally as well.


Becoming Spartacus

The role of Spartacus in the ballet of the same name, is extremely demanding. It requires a very strong and capable ballet dancer. He must have a wide dramatic range, exceptional ballon (leaping ability) and be a top-tier athlete. It can be difficult for a dancer to do justice to the role. Sergei Polunin excels at it. Sergei becomes Spartacus. His physical attributes and talents, along with his ability to completely immerse himself emotionally in a role, make him a stellar choice.

How the story came to be

The story of Khachaturian’s ballet (with libretto by Yuri Grigorovich) was derived from a book by Raffaello Giovagnolli that details events from an historical Roman slave revolt. Its leader, Spartacus, was a Thracian warrior who had been captured in battle. The rebellion’s high point was its seizure of Mount Vesuvius as a stronghold. After two years of fighting, the rebellion was finally put down by Marcus Licinius Crassus, and the warrior Spartacus fell in battle.

Synopsis of the ballet

Act I

Invasion
The military machine of imperial Rome, led by Crassus, wages a cruel campaign of conquest, destroying everything in its path. Among the chained prisoners, who are doomed to captivity, are man and wife, Spartacus and Phrygia.

Spartacus’s Monologue.
Spartacus is in despair. Born a free man, he is now a prisoner in chains.

The Human Market
Dealers separate the men and women prisoners for sale to rich Romans. Spartacus is parted from Phrygia.

Phrygia’s Monologue
Phrygia is overcome with grief. She thinks with horror of the terrifying ordeals that lie ahead of her.

Crassus’s Palace
Mimes & courtesans entertain the guests, making fun of Phrygia, Crassus’s new conquest. Aegina, a favorite concubine of Crassus, draws Crassus into a frenzied, bacchanalian dance. Dizzy with wine & passion, Crassus demands a spectacle. Two gladiators are to fight to the end in helmets with closed visors (without seeing each other). The victor’s helmet is removed. It is Spartacus.

Spartacus’s Monologue
Against his will, Spartacus has been forced to fatally defeat a fellow armsman. His despair develops into anger & protest. He will no longer tolerate captivity. He vows to win back his freedom.

The Gladiators’ Barracks
Spartacus incites the gladiators to revolt. They swear an oath of loyalty to him and they break out of the barracks to freedom.

Act II

The Appian Way
Having broken out of their captivity and finding themselves on Appian Way, surrounded by shepherds, Spartacus’s followers call the latter to join the uprising. They proclaim Spartacus as their leader.

Spartacus’s Monologue
The thought of Phrygia’s fate as Casuss’s conquest gives Spartacus no peace. He is haunted by memories of his wife whom he thinks of day & night.

Crasuss’s Villa
His search for Phrygia leads Spartacus to Crassus’s villa. The two lovers are overjoyed at their reunion. But, due to the arrival of a procession of patricians, led by Aegina, they are forced to hide.

Aegina’s Monologue
Aegina has long dreamed of seducing and gaining power over Crassus. Her goal is to win him and thereby gain legal admittance to the world of the Roman nobility.

Feast at Crasuss’s Villa
Crassus celebrates his victories. The patricians sing his praises. The festivities are cut short by an alarming piece of news: Spartacus and his men have all but surrounded the villa. The panic-stricken guests disperse. Crassus and Aegina are also forced to flee. Spartacus breaks into the villa.

Spartacus’s Monologue
He is elated and filled with faith that the uprising will be successful.

Spartacus’s Victory
Spartacus’s men have taken Crassus prisoner and want to dispose of him. Spartacus is not bent on revenge and suggests that they should engage in single-handed combat. Crassus accepts the challenge and suffers defeat when Spartacus knocks the sword out of his hand. Crassus makes ready demonstratively to meet his end, but Spartacus, with a gesture of contempt, lets him go. That all shall know of Crassus’s dishonor is punishment enough. The jubilant insurgents praise the victory of Spartacus.

Act III

Crasuss Takes His Revenge
Crassus is tormented by his disgrace. Fanning his hurt pride, Aegina calls on him to take his revenge. The only way forward, she chides, is to defeat the insurgents. Crassus summons his legions. Aegina sees him off to battle.

Aegina’s Monologue
Spartacus is Aegina’s enemy too. The defeat of Crassus will be her downfall. Aegina devises a plan. She will sew dissension in Spartacus’s encampment.

Spartacus’s Encampment.
Spartacus & Phrygia are happy to be together. Then suddenly, his military commanders bring the news that Crassus is on the move with a large army. Spartacus decides to give battle. Overcome by cowardice, some of his warriors (who were simple shepherds a short time ago) desert their leader.

Dissension
Aegina infiltrates the ranks of the defectors. Together with her fellow courtesans she seduces the men with wine and dance. As a result, the men throw all caution to the winds and she convinces them to return to Spartacus’ camp. Having successfully sprung her trap, Aegina hands them all over to Crassus.

Spartacus’s Monologue
Crassus is consumed by the wish for revenge. Spartacus shall pay for the humiliation that he, Crassus, was forced to undergo.

The Last Battle
Surrounded by the Roman legions, Spartacus’s devoted friends perish in unequal combat. Spartacus fights on fearlessly right up to the bitter end but, closing in on the wounded hero, the Roman soldiers crucify him on their spears.

Requiem
Phrygia retrieves Spartacus’s body. She mourns her beloved. She is inconsolable. Raising her arms, Phrygia appeals to the heavens that the memory of Spartacus live forever.





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