Thursday 22 November 2018


Spartacus! A household name, courtesy of Kirk Douglas, and a masculine, earthy 1950s Russian ballet for the balletomanes among us. Aram Khachaturian's story of the Thracian gladiator's slave revolt of 73 BCE has had a vivid reworking for the Australian Ballet's 2018 Season by choreographer Lucas Jervies and renowned costume and set designer Jérôme Kaplan, and Mr. P. and I had a chance to see for ourselves at the Sydney Opera House. Another ballet not previously seen by this Correspondent but I am pleased to report it was a very entertaining night out for all, and for we, of a particular vintage, surprisingly nostalgic.

When the curtain rises on Crassus' triumphal march into Rome, parading the Thracian captives, including Spartacus and his wife Flavia, I was transported straight back to the age of 11. The flag-bearers in their white mini togas and what looked like white bobby socks and plimsolls dancing around the stage in formation, put me immediately in mind of my participation in the Opening Ceremony of the 1977 Pacific Conference Games in our nation's capital. I was one of 1600 ten and eleven-year olds who ran about the stadium in our matching white outfits and waving a coloured ribbon in a choreographed ballet of our own, to the surging tune of "Fanfare to the Common Man", followed by the very convict-reminiscent folk ditties, "Bound for Botany Bay" and "Waltzing Matilda"*. Rousing stuff!

Third Pacific Conference Games 1977 Canberra

But, lo, the 1970s nostalgia didn't end there! Khachaturian's lovely score, beautifully performed as ever by the Opera Australia Orchestra, includes the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia (a.k.a. Flavia), instantly recognisable as the theme music to the long-running BBC drama, The Onedin Line.** While I cannot for the life of me remember anything of this popular maritime series, my guess being that the show probably coincided with bedtime, the music was a bolt from the past. It may need adding to the growing list of televisual viewing, as we do love a good Costume Drama around these parts.

Speaking of telly, the hat trick of reminiscences came in the form of Jérôme Kaplan's sleek and spare sets and costumes. While the gladiators were mostly clad in skimpy nothings and were even beefed up a little beyond the usual danseur's physique, (to the great delight of the Older Ladies sitting beside us; there was even a little bit of "Phwoar"-ing as they took in the programme before the curtain rose and a veritable frisson rushed around the dress circle at times), the Patricians wore precisely the sort of outfits that were the staple costume of all the Sci-Fi programmes from the glory days of the Space Race. M. Kaplan's formative years were evidently spent watching the same shows as the Pipistrello's.

Australian Ballet Spartacus 2018 photo credit Jeff Busby
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby
Throw in some gladiatorial fighting, a bath house Orgy and massacre, bloody crucifixions and lots of flinging about of arms to signify High Drama and Despair and you have a neoclassical balletic imagining of the Third Servile War of Ancient Rome. Mary Beard may have a wry comment to make about the Artistic License but it made for a jolly night out for us.

Spartacus 2018 Australian Ballet photo credit Jeff Busby Bath house
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby

Our principal dancers for the night were Jarryd Madden as Spartacus, Robyn Hendricks as Flavia, Andrew Killian as Crassus and Valerie Tereshchenko as Tertulla. Well danced, all!

Bonus Treat: For any dear Reader so inclined, I'm attaching the link to the Australian Ballet's very good website, where they have a short video on the costume design, here, and a tantalising snippet of the costumes in action, here.

* Australia didn't abandon "God Save the Queen" as our national anthem until 1984, prior to which Pipistrello fondly remembers school assemblies cycling through all the candidates for years, enjoying singing characterful folk ditties about our convict forebears before being saddled with the turgid "Advance Australia Fair".

** I was surprised to read on Wikipedia that The Onedin Line contributed to the fall of the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceauçescu.


    SO, I take it YOU were a ballet dancer?Up to what age?I danced until age 15 when it was apparent I would NOT make the ranks of PRIMA BALLERINA!!!!TOO TALL and weak ankles!!!!!
    This looks like a LOVELY PRODUCTION!

    1. Snap, Contessa!! Too tall and rubbish ankles, but I only mucked about until about the same age as you as I never had any aspirations to the stage owing to terrible stage-fright. I loved the classes for the music and repetitive routine and I can still probably do a full barre in my head! Oh, and dancing in formation touches me in a primal way. Give me a ribbon to wave and life in a totalitarian regime would have been right up my alley!! xx

  2. That must have been so exciting to participate in as a child. I loved ballet. I can't do it anymore, since it cost me my hips.

    1. Dancing professionally really does take a brutal toll, and I admire you for getting your life back with your new hips. Part of the magic of watching these performances is illusion that the dancers can pull it all off without even raising a sweat!

  3. High entertainment indeed! Any man wearing those costumes deserves his keep.

    How wonderful that you got to prance about and participate in the opening ceremony of the Pacific Conference Games. I'm sure it was the highlight of your tender years. I still recall my leotard-clad dance performance at my junior school's production of something or other. Probably the first and last time I ever wore such a thing.

    1. Indeed, yes, prancing about is the correct expression, CD!

      Well done for donning a leotard for a school performance, something for which I could never muster the courage. My single moment on the primary school stage where a Parent may be in the audience was a competent and well-hidden routine on the metallophone in the 70s staple musical, "Joseph & his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat"!


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