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.
Since the middle of last century, for decades, this ballet was among the most popular and beloved ones in the ballet repertory of the Mariinsky Theater. Over the last seasons, this performance have been carefully restored, and a number of young ballet artists of the Mariinsky Theatre took a great interest to learn the new for them style and roles of the main characters, enriched with a great drama, theatricality generous and sincerely expressive with respect to what is being called simple human feelings.
Choreography by Leonid Yakobson features a combination of dance, drama and pantomime. It has a careful attitude to the era of storytelling and original details of plots. Revival of this ballet represents one of the most important periods in the development of the Mariinsky Ballet in the 20th century and its popularity these days proves that they have stood the test of time and now it is once again in the repertoire of the Mariinsky Theatre.
Revival of the original 1956 production
The triumph of Rome
The Roman general Crassus is returning victorious from a battle in Thracia. The rejoicing crowd welcomes the legionnaires. Captive slaves are placed in Crassus’ golden chariot. Spartacus, his wife Phrygia and Harmodius are among them.
The Roman aristocrats, patricians and senators bow to the general. Crassus meets Aegina the courtesan.
The slave market
Lentulus Batiatus, the owner of a gladiatorial school, comes to the market. Spartacus and Harmodius, chained together, draw his attention. Lentulus Batiatus buys them both. Sad is the hour when Phrygia and Spartacus are separated.
Aegina is brought in on a richly decorated sedan. The courtesan examines the slaves and her gaze falls on Harmodius, but he has already been sold. Aegina buys Phrygia.
Excited at what is to come, the crowd awaits the start of the show. Crassus and Aegina’s box is in the middle of the amphitheatre. The Gaul, Numidian and African fight in the first battle of the gladiators. The Gaul dies and the injured Numidian begs to be allowed to live, but the crowd demands his life. The corpses are carried off. Retiarius and Mirmillon – the “Fisherman” and the “Fish” begin to fight. Dying, Retiarius curses Rome. Then two detachments of gladiators enter: the Samnites and the Thracians. The frenzied battle comes to the boil. The detachment led by Spartacus is victorious. The crowd clap in delight.
Spartacus appears, hiding from the night patrol. Phrygia tells of her live as a slave. Spartacus agrees on a secret meeting with his gladiator friends. Aegina observes this. Wanting to expose their secret, she beckons Harmodius to her.
The people are praising the god Saturn. Crassus is brought out of the palace. One of the slaves carrying the sedan stumbles. a libertine kills him at Crassus’ order. Spartacus calls on his comrades-in-arms to revolt. They swear their loyalty to the battle for freedom.
The Gladiators revolt
The gladiators languish in a gloomy prison. They are fettered in humiliating chains. Better death n the battlefield that in the circus for a crowd that want blood.
The chains are broken. But the guardhouse is already giving the alarm. The gladiators start fighting the guards.
Spartacus opens the gates and leads the rebels out.
Spartacus’ warriors experience victory after victory. Now the Romans are lowering their banners to the leader of the rebel slaves. Aegina is in the rearguard of Spartacus’ forces, among the captive centurions and hetaerae. She looks for Harmodius brings him to the generals’ tent where the hetaerae are dancing.
Spartacus appears unexpectedly. To the dismay of the generals he orders the camp be cleared of the hetaerae immediately. But Aegina remains. Spartacus orders her too to go. Harmodius protests. a quarrel begins. The conflict grows. a group of captive generals and their detachments leave the camp. Attracted by Aegina, Harmodius leaves with them. Spartacus’ faithful comrades-in-arms remain with him.
A feast is underway at Crassus’ villa. Aegina tells Crassus that she has brought Harmodius, who has quarrelled with Spartacus, and she tells of the dissent among the rebel slaves. Crassus gives the order to destroy the camp of the in¬surgents who have left Spartacus. Phrygia sends a slave to Spartacus to warn him, but all is in vain.
At his feast, Crassus orders Harmodius be brought in. The purple curtains are flung open and Harmodius sees the gladiators who betrayed Spartacus, their bodies crucified. Harmodius realises Aegina’s treachery and tries to kill her, but the legionnaires stab the youth.
Crassus and Aegina vanish without trace. Spartacus’ warriors arrive at the villa.
Phrygia is tormented by a premonition of disaster. Before the decisive battle she bids farewell to Spartacus. Surrounded by Crassus’ legions, Spartacus and his warriors perish in the cruel battle, true to their oath to freedom to the end. The retreat is sounded. The Roman warriors depart. At night Phrygia seeks out Spartacus body and mourns the fallen husband.