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Big, bold and thrilling, Spartacus is the Bolshoi's signature work, but it stands or falls on the charisma of the dancer playing its doomed hero.

The company hasn't had a truly memorable Spartacus since Irek Mukhamedov threw off his shackles and flew.

Now it has. Cuban Carlos Acosta has spent a month rehearsing with the company to take on this role, an epic test of stamina in so many ways. He has performed in Moscow; now he brings his interpretation to London. And he triumphs.

The part is built on a series of stage-splitting jumps, designed by the choreographer Yuri Grigorovich to show off the athletic power of the traditional Bolshoi leading man.

His virile antics propel the story: a slaves' revolution is won with jetés that whir round the stage; he accepts power by bounding through the massed ranks of his supporters, pushing the sky with his twisting elevation; he encounters defeat in a last despairing sequence of abandoned leaps.

In between, there are endless pirouettes and a lot of rousing running around - all of which Acosta carries off with skill and abandon. Arguably he might have jumped an inch higher and spun a fraction faster five years ago, but then he wouldn't have brought to the part such extraordinary drama.

Acosta's unique skill, as his career has developed, is his ability to communicate. He comes so close to the footlights, you feel he wants to break their bounds and bring the audience on to the stage.

And he is so expressive you believe he is speaking. When he enfolds his beloved Phrygia (Anna Antonicheva) in his tender arms, you can hear the words of love he is murmuring; when he attempts to quell an uprising in his own ranks, you know the admonitions he is using.

It is an extraordinary gift, and it creates a deep emotion and passion that help the ballet along.

Spartacus was made in 1968, three years after MacMillan had unveiled the psychological realism of Romeo and Juliet. Grigorovich took a different path, structuring the piece as a series of striking tableaux, linked by "monologues", solos that express character rather than thought.

Acosta's achievement is to play a Grigorovich hero like a MacMillan one.

On Monday night, only Maria Allash as a flashingly seductive Aegina, disdain dripping from her elegant wrists, ambition stamped over her face, came anywhere near to matching his dramatic realism.

Alexander Volchkov plays the evil Roman general Crassus as a self-dramatising hysteric; it is a pantomime performance, but effective. Antonicheva emotes hard but lacks fluency as Phrygia.

Around them, Khachaturian's score, vividly played by the Bolshoi Orchestra under Pavel Sorokin, swirls dramatically and Grigorovich's stage pictures unfold with vigorous glamour. It's all a bit Cecil B DeMille, but utterly engrossing.

Source: By Sarah Crompton,

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