Episode 90 – Spartacus, the Ballet

We’re turning 90 and it’s time for a special episode on the reception of Spartacus! What better way to do this than to examine the history of Spartacus, the ballet. Dr Rad is our expert on the ground on all things Spartacus and reception. Dr G brings a wild curiosity and a small knowledge of ballet.

So how does a famous freedom fighter like Spartacus end up with his own ballet? We consider the major notes of Spartacus’ story that have come down to us from the ancient material as the first step in tracing his reception.

The Reception of Spartacus Beyond America

The ballet takes us on a journey beyond the reception of Spartacus in America. Kubrick’s seminal 1960 film is based on Howard Fast’s 1951 novel – a Hollywood production based on an American novel sets the scene for a very particular reception of Spartacus. But the ballet couldn’t be more different. The origins of the ballet come from Stalinist Russia.

A Little Context

The communist and socialist connections to Spartacus resonate with ideas such as seeking community amongst the oppressed and fighting for freedom from authoritarian or monarchical rule. Marx, Lenin, and the political movements in Europe in the early twentieth century, position Spartacus as a much relied upon symbol for the freedoms people sought from current leaders.

The Spartakusbund was a Marxist movement during the first World War, although its legacy falls foul of Lenin. While the Spartakiade was the name given to the Soviet Union’s version of the Olympics. Dr Rad explores the dangers of the misinterpreting Spartacus’ story in Stalinist Russia and this leads us squarely to the ballet.

Let’s Get Our Dancing Shoes On

Spartacus («Спартак», Spartak), the 1954 ballet is the creation of Aram Khachaturian. He was born in Georgia, studied at the Conservatorium in Moscow, and went on to composer a variety of film scores. In 1948, Khachaturian found himself on the wrong side of the regime with his music described as “decadent” and “bourgeois”. Spartacus plays a role in Khachaturian’s rehabilitation.

Join us as we explore all the details including the recent production by the Australian Ballet that Dr Rad had the great fortune to see!

Episode 90 – Spartacus, the Ballet
Spartacus ballet
Spartacus at the Bolshoi in Moscow, October 2013.
Image credit: Bengt Nyman via Wikimedia Commons
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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!

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