Monday, February 22, 2010

Spartacus at the Kennedy Center

Friday night, someone I know and yours truly attended a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet's 1968 production of Spartacus. It looked something like a cross between the 1960 Kirk Douglas Hollywood spectacular, a folkloric Caucasian knife-dance, West Side Story, the Gruzia nightclub floor-show in Tashkent, and a Victory Day parade in Moscow. Although we heard some mutterings from Kennedy Center patrons, not accustomed to seeing leaping Roman Legionnaires or goose-stepping in ballets (since the Romans were pretty clearly modeled on Nazis, and the slaves danced a lot like Russians defending the motherland during the Great Patriotic War [aka WWII])--we enjoyed it. Especially since one of our first Russian lessons, in a textbook no doubt originating in the Soviet era, featured going v teatr na Spartak. Finally, after years of hearing about it in grammar lessons, we had finally managed to see Spartak! (Also the name of a football club, and a chocolate brand, among other Russian favorites.)

In the audience, we ran into someone else we know, who later told me that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotamayor had been sitting a few rows in front of her, in the orchestra (so modest, why not a box?). A google search (for we saw different dancers than the Washington Post critic reviewed) turned up this interesting account of the same performance, from Yelena Osipova, balletomane and explainer of Russian culture--as well as graduate student in Washington, DC:
Tonight, I was joined by two lovely friends for an experience I'm sure I will cherish for a long time: I finally saw Aram Khachaturian's "Spartacus" performed live by Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, at the Kennedy Center. I admired Khachaturian's work since I was at elementary school (all those hours spent practicing the "fortepiano"...); and later, as I explored classical music a little further, I came to the conclusion that the Armenian-Soviet composer was certainly one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century (not that I'm biased, of course!).
You can listen to some of the music on this YouTube clip: