Ivan Vasiliev in an extract from Spartacus during re-opening gala of the Bolshoi Theatre, 28 October 2011
Spartacus, or Spartak, is a ballet by Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978). The work follows the exploits of Spartacus, the leader of the slave uprising against the Romans known as the Third Servile War, although the ballet's storyline takes considerable liberties with the historical record. Khachaturian composed the ballet in 1954, and for this was awarded a Lenin Prize that year. It was first staged, with choreography by Leonid Yakobson, in Leningrad 1956, but only with qualified success since Yakobson abandoned conventional pointe in his choreography. The ballet received its first staging at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow in 1958, choreographed by Igor Moiseev; however it was the 1968 production, choreographed by Yury Grigorovich, which achieved the greatest acclaim for the ballet. It remains one of Khachaturian's best known works and is prominent within the repertoires of the Bolshoi Theatre and other ballet companies in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
The Roman consul Crassus returns to Rome from his latest conquests in a triumphal procession. Among his captives are the Thracian king Spartacus and his wife Phrygia. Spartacus laments his captivity and bids a bitter farewell to Phrygia, who is taken off to join Crassus’ harem of concubines. To entertain Crassus and his entourage, Spartacus is sent into the gladiatorial ring and is forced to kill a close friend. Horrified at his deed, Spartacus incites his fellow captives to rebellion.
The escaped captives celebrate their freedom. Meanwhile, Crassus entertains the Roman patricians with a lavish entertainment, including fights between blindfolded gladiators. The seductive Aegina incites a sexual orgy. Spartacus and his men disrupt the orgy and rescue the slave women, including Phrygia. The insulted Aegina insists that Crassus pursue the slave army immediately. The lovers celebrate their escape to the familiar “Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia.”
Aegina discovers Spartacus’s camp and observes the lovers emerging from their tent the next morning. Aegina sends word to Crassus, who sends his army in pursuit. Internecine struggles break out among Spartacus’s forces. Finally, Crassus’s forces discover Spartacus and impale him upon their spears. Spartacus’s closest followers recover his body and carry it off while Phrygia mourns her loss.