Almanac Ballet – the Bolshoi Ballet performs ‘Spartacus’ at the Lyric Theatre, Brisbane: it was SPQR!

Principal Dancer Mikhail Lobukhin as Spartacus
Photo by Damir Yusupov. Source QPAC


On Sunday, I fulfilled a promise I made to my wife ten years ago. Back then, with the greatest of reluctance, she accompanied me to see a local repertory theatre group put on a performance of Fiddler on the Roof. I was going along because one of my senior students had a minor role and asked if I’d like to come to see her performance. How can you say no? In return, Anne, a rather more cultured individual than me, asked me to promise her that, at some time in the future, I’d accompany her to the ballet, something I’d never attended in my life.


Time passed and opportunities were few and far between but the commitment to keep my word never wavered. It was only earlier this year that we became aware that the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet was coming to perform two ballets in Brisbane in mid-2019, Jewels and Spartacus. An opportunity like this comes up infrequently in life so we purchased tickets almost immediately to ensure we’d be there. I was happy to keep my promise with the bonus that I wouldn’t be seeing just any old ballet company – I was going to see the Bolshoi.


So on Sunday we scrubbed up for the experience, Anne her usual elegant self, me to a standard I don’t often choose (but can comfortably rise to when the occasion demands). The Lyric Theatre at QPAC was full to capacity. Our seats were up in the nosebleeds but central, providing the elevation to fully appreciate the spatial aspects of the performance as anything from one to thirty dancers occupied the stage at various times. The excellent Queensland Symphony Orchestra provided the musical accompaniment.


Spartacus is performed in three Acts with an intermission between each Act, each of which lasts approximately 40-45 minutes. A most helpful flyer provided details of the production personnel and the full cast of players as well as a synopsis outlining the narrative and its twelve Scenes.


Spartacus is a very robust, dynamic ballet when compared to the finesse and dainty elegance of, say, Swan Lake. With dramatic calls to rebellion, gladiatorial fights and mass battle scenes, it’s action aplenty and spirited, full-blown physicality. The role of Spartacus, in particular, calls for considerable physical strength, athleticism and endurance. Principal male dancer Mikhail Lobukhin was powerful, even explosive at times, but never without grace in his movements, but also lithe and softly enamoured in his scenes with his sweetheart, Phrygia. Alexander Volchkov as his nemesis, Crassus, was more refined in his presence but also possessed the brooding and (not always) repressed anger that reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in Gladiator. His was a controlled and calculating aggression.


Photo by Damir Yusupov. Source QPAC


The contrast between the leading ladies could not have been more pronounced. Margarita Shrayner as Phrygia was all delicacy, fragility, suppleness, elegance and beauty. Her role was performed in more of a classical ballet style. She was the demure but committed, frail but full of inner strength damsel to Spartacus’ whole-hearted leader of the rebellion. The role of the courtesan Aegina, mistress of Crassus, was performed by Olga Smirnova. No shrinking violet, Aegina is a true scheming femme fatale, a siren and a manipulator of men. Her movements oozed sex, sensuality and seduction, leaving the audience in no doubt as to what she was on about. Her haughty demeanour was performed with a suitable arrogance, disdain and sense of connivance. Aegina certainly won over this audience!


The extended chorus provided a strong, beautifully choreographed and meticulously coordinated backdrop to the lead performers. Costuming was restrained where needed (the rebels) and lavish as required (the court of Crassus); sets were minimalist but effective; the stage lighting was first rate in using the full range from bright spotlights for individual focus through full stage broadcast to give coverage to group scenes and then on to soft gloom for appropriate mood settings. As mentioned earlier, the QSO did themselves proud, supporting the stars of the show without ever coming close to imposing themselves.


Obviously, I was engrossed! I really enjoyed this performance and was very happy to add it to my life’s cultural experiences, so much so that I’d like to, at some stage, take in one of the more classical ballets such as the aforementioned Swan Lake. 


I studied Latin through to matriculation level at secondary school – and passed! And so, to finish on a Roman note, I thought the Bolshoi’s performance of Spartacus  was SPQR – simply, positively, quintessentially remarkable!


Our cultural visit to Brisbane had another feature as well. Arriving very early, we had time to spend an hour at  the Margaret Olley exhibition at GOMA before going on to the ballet. Highlighted by the two Archibald Prize winning portraits of Olley painted over fifty years apart by Dobell and Quilty, this exhibition sourced works from multiple major and regional galleries across Australia. It encompassed Olley’s full span as an artist in both time and styles. I knew a bit about her still life works but was totally unaware of her broader work in aspects such as sketching, self portraits and impressionism as well as her overseas influences. The exhibition also includes works by the likes of Degas, Picasso and John Brack. And full marks to GOMA for its staging of the exhibition to reflect Farndon, the Hill End house which was Olley’s home for many years, with its tongue-and-groove walls, cane furniture and arched doorways in appropriate colours. And, most amazingly and importantly, entry was free! Bravo!


Who said that Brisbane has no culture?


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.


  1. Andy Thurlow says

    Well! I’m flabbergasted! As, I hope, one of your closest friends, I am awed at your review. I checked to see if this masterful appraisal had been plagiarised … but no! When you next come to visit us in the Barossa Valley, we might have to forgo some of the winery sessions for the Festival Centre.
    You are a terrific writer and editor .. and just to irritate in a gentle and slightly controversial manner those of Queensland origin, there is a great deal of ballet present in Australian Rules football.

  2. Ah Spartacus, when thinking about him that wonderful theme music comes to mind. As a big fan of “The Onedin Line” starring Peter Gilmore as James, Almanacas would realize the Spartacus theme was used in the opening credits of this great T V series.

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