The Bolshoi Ballet: SpartacusIvan Vasiliev and Nina Kaptsova in Spartacus

Expressive detail … Ivan Vasiliev as Spartacus and Nina Kaptsova as Phrygia. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

A bad performance can make Spartacus feel like the worst kind of choreography-by-numbers. Grigorovich's 1968 ballet delivers its monumental effects by repeating every jump, skip or triumphal salute in multiples of four. The characters switch in blunt succession from heroism to horror, piety to brutality. Khachaturian's score trundles out its themes by rote, and you can find yourself passing the time – all three and three-quarter hours of it – by counting the number of shields and swords being brandished on stage. And then you get performances like this one, with which the Bolshoi opened its summer London season.
  1. Spartacus
  2. Royal Opera House,
  3. London
  4. WC2
  1. Until 8 August
  2. Box office:
    020-7304 4000
  3. More details
The power to transform Spartacus from Soviet museum piece to living classic lies primarily in its lead dancer – and the Bolshoi's Ivan Vasiliev is beyond compelling. We know from past appearances that this is a man who has carved out his own virtuosity, through the swivelling, scissoring embellishments of his enormous jump and the inhuman assurance of his pirouettes. But Spartacus also reveals Vasiliev as a maturing artist. He inflects the most juggernaut step with expressive detail – his eyes pooling depths of anguish or hope, his body tugging against captivity. The shape of each split jeté or rivoltade is etched, definitively, in mid-air. Even the standard string of pirouettes with which Spartacus celebrates his leadership of the revolt is reinvented as Vasiliev arches his upper body on each rotation, as if ecstatically breathing the air of freedom.
It's a performance that most dancers could only hope to give once in a lifetime. But magnificent as Vasiliev is, this Spartacus isn't a one-man show. There's a collective commitment in the company's performance that gives a true and sympathetic reading of the ballet's period style. Danced with this degree of intelligence, we get to see exhilarating echoes of old Soviet constructivism in Grigorovich's choreography, especially in the industrial grandeur of its climactic tableaux – the massing of the Roman army; the death of Spartacus. In scenes such as the Russian orgy, we get to appreciate just how radical the hint of 60s free expression and pop-art colour must once have looked.
There are fine individual performances, too. Nina Kaptsova is textbook Phrygia, a wisp of moral rectitude steeled by a revolutionary fervour, and Alexander Volchkov – served by an unlikely, but ideal, mix of Julian Clary prettiness and technical incisiveness – brings a barbed glitter to the role of the narcissistic bully, Crassus.


Post-Harry Potter, Radcliffe goes goth, Felton goes 'Apes'

Daniel Radcliffe
    Now that the Harry Potter series has ended filming, the actors will be appearing at Comic-Con in San Diego this weekend to present Part 1 of the final set of films, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. After the big reveal, Daniel Radcliffe will start production on the thriller The Woman in Black in 3D later this year.
Based on the gothic novel by Susan Hill and directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake), the story follows Radcliffe as a young lawyer sorting through the estate of a deceased client in her remote old house, when frightening secrets and a ghost seeking revenge surface.
The former Harry Potter has also signed for the remake of World War I drama All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Journey is the Destination portraying Dan Eldon, artist and photojournalist.
Rupert Grint, aka Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise, will star in the comedy Eddie the Eagle, playing Britain's Olympic ski jumper Eddie Edwards.
Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, is set to join the cast of the upcoming Rise of the Apes, the prequel to the Planet of the Apes. He will co-star with James Franco (Milk, Howl), Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings), and John Lithgow (Shrek).
He plays the son of Brian Cox's character from the original film, co-owner of an ape facility where genetic engineering experiments create intelligent apes. The film is directed by Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist) and is scheduled to hit screens June 24, 2011.
In addition Felton has signed a recording contract with indie label Six Strings. The actor's songs can be heard on his YouTube channel 'Feltbeats' ( and are available on iTunes.


Mercury prize nominations

Dizzee Rascal heads up Mercury prize nominations

Some of this year's Mercury nominees describe what it feels like to be nominated.
Dizzee Rascal leads the nominations for this year's Mercury Prize, seven years after winning the trophy for his debut album Boy In Da Corner.
Paul Weller is also in the running alongside The XX, former nominee Laura Marling, indie band Wild Beasts and folk-rock quartet Mumford and Sons.
They are joined by Corinne Bailey Rae, Biffy Clyro, Foals, Villagers, I Am Kloot and the Kit Downes Trio.
The winner of the £20,000 prize will be announced on 7 September.
Previous winners have included Speech Debelle, Elbow, Klaxons and Arctic Monkeys.
The prize is open to UK and Irish acts who have released albums over the past year.
The XX are 5/2 favourites to win, according to Ladbrokes.
Ladbrokes spokesman, Nick Weinberg, said: "The XX look like winners in waiting. They seem to tick the right boxes and there's a growing momentum behind them."
One of the tracks from the three-piece's debut album was used by the BBC during the general election coverage.
Villagers are the 25/1 outsiders.
Jazz trio
It is the third nomination for Dizzee Rascal, who won the Mercury prize with his debut album Boy In Da Corner in 2003.
His latest nomination is for Tongue N' Cheek - he was also in the running in 2007 for Maths + English.
Weller received his first nomination in 1994 for the album Wild Wood. This time around his album Wake Up The Nation has been recognised.
Marling is nominated for a second time for her latest album I Speak Because I Can, having been shortlisted in 2008 for her debut Alas, I Cannot Swim
Bailey Rae's album The Sea deals with the sudden death of her husband two years ago.

The xx perform their song Intro on Newsnight
Its opening lines, dedicated to her late husband Jason Rae, are: "He's a real live-wire, he's the best of his kind, wait till you see those eyes".
"Making the record has meant a lot to me," she said at the nominations ceremony. "I'm really pleased."
The Kit Downes Trio are an acoustic jazz outfit who are on the list for their album Golden.
Oxford band Foals and Wild Beasts are both nominated for their second albums.
Ayrshire band Biffy Clyro are recognised for their latest offering Only Revolutions.
"That's a particularly wonderful way to start a Tuesday. What a lovely surprise!," the band posted on Twitter.
Villagers' debut album Becoming A Jackal is also included, along with Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons' - the London-based band were formed three years ago.
Manchester's I Am Kloot, who have been together for more than 10 years, are nominated for their fifth album Sky At Night. It was produced by Elbow's Guy Garvey and Craig Potter.


British parliament....says....????

British parliament protest camp removed
LONDON — Bailiffs cleared away a sprawling protest camp in front of the British parliament in a pre-dawn raid on Tuesday, although evicted demonstrators vowed to re-appear elsewhere in London.
Officials descended at 1:00 am (0000 GMT) on Parliament Square, in the heart of the city, to drag away a few dozen protesters and remove the ramshackle collection of tents, banners and straw bales used as toilets.
The protesters had been camped on the grassy square since May 1 to protest against the war in Afghanistan and a range of other issues, but a court ruled last week that their "Democracy Village" could not remain.
It took about 60 bailiffs four hours to remove the protesters after a few tied themselves to scaffolding.
Some of the protesters complained they had been roughly treated.
Activist Howard Rees, 30, said the eviction was "pretty unpleasant" and claimed the bailiffs were "pretty brutal".
"They were putting the boot into people while they were on the floor," he told AFP.
But London's Metropolitan Police said no arrests were made.
A fence was thrown up around the square, while cleaners got to work on the mess left behind by the demonstrators.
Parliament Square contains the statues of Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.
It sits amid UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the iconic Palace of Westminster parliament building, and the historic Westminster Abbey.
But London authorities said it had been turned into a squalid, nauseating eyesore by the protesters, who were stopping the general public from enjoying the square.
The activists on Friday lost an appeal against eviction in a battle with London Mayor Boris Johnson.
By the morning rush hour, at least a dozen demonstrators remained at the site.
"People from 'Democracy Village' are going to carry on with this protest. We're not going away," said Pete Phoenix, a 36-year-old protester with blond dreadlocks and sunglasses.
"Lots of areas around the city are going to be taken over in the next few days and weeks.
"Our spirit is stronger after this eviction," he told AFP, saying the camp had "raised awareness around the world" about Britain's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Workers at the square said it would be re-turfed due to the damage caused to the grass by protesters.
The High Court in London granted eviction orders last month sought by Johnson, but their enforcement was delayed pending the outcome of the appeal.
In the appeal ruling Friday, judge David Neuberger said that although the land was owned by the Crown, the mayor of London had power to act over the square.
"We are relieved this dreadful blight of Parliament Square has finally come to an end, and look forward to it being restored to its previous condition so all Londoners can visit and enjoy it," Westminster City Council leader Colin Barrow said on Tuesday.
He said authorities "must find a way to help prevent it being hijacked by vociferous minorities whose primary intent seems to turn this World Heritage Site into a squalid campsite."
A hand-written list of items removed from the square and seen by AFP included 20 tents, 20 to 30 sleeping bags, quilts and pillows, flags, a music system, a beer barrel and, curiously, a sail boat.
The eviction does not affect veteran protester Brian Haw, who has been camped on the roadside opposite parliament since 2001.
Haw has not been glad of the company, calling the "Democracy Village" protesters "deliberately unreasonable, even depraved and outrageous".


Health chief tells of challenge facing NHS

The head of the NHS in the North-East has been appointed to oversee the Government’s radical health service reforms. Joe Willis spoke to Ian Dalton about the proposals.

THE NHS is facing one of the biggest overhauls in its 62- year history.

Under plans announced by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, hospitals will become more autonomous and GPs will be handed responsibility for buying services for their patients.

In addition, thousands of NHS managers could find themselves out of work as the country’s ten strategic health authorities and 152 primary care trusts are abolished.

While unions and Labour MPs have criticised the plans, Ian Dalton describes the details in the White Paper as dramatic and exciting.

The chief executive of NHS North-East has been appointed by the Department of Health as managing director of provider development.

For at least the next year, he will oversee the coalition Government’s vision for the NHS.

As well as working with acute hospitals and community- based services to implement the changes, he will help design a new healthcare regulation system.

The appointment comes after Mr Dalton was hired by the Government to co-ordinate the country’s response to the swine flu pandemic.

It is also reward for the high regard the NHS in the North- East is held.

Mr Dalton told The Northern Echo yesterday he had accepted the job because it gave him “an opportunity to make a national contribution” to the future of the NHS.

He said the new NHS would give patients more choice about where and when they had their treatment.

He said giving GPs the power to procure services would put them in the “driving seat” on behalf of the patients.

However, with many GPs expected to seek help from private health companies to buy services, critics say the NHS is facing privatisation by the back door.

In response, Mr Dalton said the changes were the next stage of the NHS’s development, and added: “I do not think the Government sees it as privatisation.”

Currently about 4,000 people work for primary care trusts and the strategic health authority in the North-East.

Opposition MPs and unions leaders are fearful of large numbers of redundancies.

Mr Dalton confirmed that the Government wanted a significant reduction in NHS management resources, but said that would mean more resources for the front line.

His appointment has also drawn criticism from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which said the NHS should not be taking on more executives with sixfigure salaries.

Mr Dalton said it was not for him to answer if he was worth the money, and added: “Like everyone who works in the NHS, I just want to do the best I can for the patients.”


David Cameron is right: The special relationship will withstand these storms

It is the politics of the kindergarten to suggest that a momentary squabble over BP or the Lockerbie bomber might destroy decades of ideological kinship between Britain and America, argues Tom Rowley.

David Cameron
David Cameron has warned Britain not to fret about the special relationship Photo: EDDIE MULHOLLAND

The couple’s relationship had soured. One was described as “frantic” to organise a reunion, desperately fighting to keep alive a flame that had long since burnt out. The other was equally keen to avoid any meeting, scurrying off embarrassedly when the pair accidently met in the kitchen. To the world they said their relationship had never been better; to their friends the cracks were all too apparent.

This was not last night’s Eastenders, but the way in which Barack Obama’s briefer than usual meeting with Gordon Brown last September was berated by the media. The “special relationship” was in mortal peril, we were told, after the President of the United States had apparently engineered to demonstrate his disapproval of Brown’s actions in a show of amateur dramatics that would have disgraced the lowliest of touring theatre companies.

That episode plastered over and, nine months on,David Cameron has flown out to meet Mr Obama for a crisis meeting amid speculation that the special relationship is at its lowest ebb yet.

As our American friends would say: get real. “Special” is not a synonym for “placid”.

For more than 60 years the UK has enjoyed a close relationship with a country that shares far more than its language. The nations are joined by an overarching worldview that can broadly be characterised as liberal, even if the British Left would despair at being grouped together with the religious reactionaries of the Tea Party movement.

But that is not to say that they have not disagreed. It is the politics of the kindergarten to suggest that a momentary squabble over a specific policy might destroy at a stroke decades of ideological kinship. Both sides know this, but find it politically useful to play up to the theatre of the bilateral meeting, by being seen to win “concessions” from the other side that are in reality piddling marginalia when compared to this broad consensus.

Indeed, the relationship was under far more pressure in the immediate post-war years - the time the press lionises as a honeymoon phase, when Winston Churchill first praised “the special relationship”. In fact, tempers were certainly tested in London when, bankrupt after six years of fighting, America called in its war loans immediately. Economist John Maynard Keynes was despatched to the US to humiliatingly beg for the loans to be extended - and returned with a long list of American demands. Today, Keynes would scarcely have got to the airport before press headlines would gleefully chronicle the strain on the special relationship.

The partnership endured similar supposed life-or-death tests during almost every post-war premiership. The toadying sycophancy towards Washigton exhibited by Tony Blair was the exception, not the rule.

Britain is manifestly not the only important strategic ally of the US, a country whose GDP is six times that of the UK and more than twice even that of its nearest rival. But America embodies a particular view of freedom - both economic and political - to which the UK largely subscribes. There will always remain scope for the two countries to work closely together in both of their interests while that consensus remains.

Cameron’s emphasis on the long-term over temporal spats should therefore be welcomed, as should his pragmatic willingness to admit to Britain’s “junior” role in this partnership.

At last we have a Prime Minister at ease with history, who understands that it is ridiculous to assert supposed equality with a country that dwarfs our resources - while underlining that being the underdog does not mean playing the poodle, as Mr Blair too frequently forgot.

So, reading coverage of Mr Cameron’s visit tonight, expect disagreements over BP and vigorous discussions about al-Megrahi’s release. Just don’t expect this to have the slightest impact on international relations - to the world stage, they are mere noises off


Biffy turn to Satan in new vid

Biffy Clyro
Bog off ... Biffy Clyro

BIFFY CLYRO will not only be celebrating the release of new vid God & Satan this week.

But also the prestigious honour of being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize.

It was announced today that the Scot rockers will battle DIZZEE RASCAL, THE XX and PAUL WELLER for the sought after accolade.

And while SIMON, BEN and JAMES have to wait until September to find out if they've won, you don't have to wait a minute longer to see their vid as we've got our mitts on an exclusive look.

CORIN HARDY, who also gave us THE PRODIGY's Warrior Dance, shot the stunning pagan-themed vid.

During the shoot, frontman Simon accidentally lost his wedding ring after being submerged in a swampy lake.

The singer was devastated until divers were called to the Sussex location and saved the day by finding it.

God & Satan hits shelves on August 23.


US, Russia to join East Asia Summit

HANOI — Southeast Asian countries have agreed to invite the United States and Russia to join a key regional dialogue on issues ranging from security to trade and the environment, Indonesia said Tuesday.

Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had decided to deepen engagement with Washington and Moscow by expanding the 16-nation East Asia Summit (EAS).

Diplomats said their inclusion would also help to "counterbalance" the dominance of regional superpower China.

"We are in one mind in recognising that the principal modality for the integration or the involvement or engagement of the Russian Federation and the United States in the region is through the EAS expansion," Natalegawa said on the sidelines of an ASEAN foreign ministers' meeting in Vietnam.

The EAS currently comprises the 10 ASEAN states plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

Its leaders hold an annual meeting that coincides with the yearly ASEAN summit.

There had been concerns by some ASEAN members about the group's central role under the expanded EAS, but in the end the foreign ministers decided to rope the United States and Russia into the group, he said.

Diplomats said closer ties with the United States and Russia will provide a balancing role as China's economic and military influence rises in the region.

"There must be a counterbalance, otherwise one country will dominate," a Southeast Asian diplomat told AFP, referring to China.

"ASEAN can play a central role because it is a friend to all the major powers," the diplomat said.

The EAS is heavy on the trade agenda, with ASEAN already forging two-way free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, India, China, Japan and South Korea.

Ideas have been floated about the possibility of a massive free-trade pact involving all 16 countries, but discussions in the EAS also covers topics such as security and environmental issues.

A second ASEAN diplomat said the move to include the US and Russia in an expanded EAS would "preempt" the emergence of other regional groupings that could dilute's ASEAN's role.

Last year, proposals for two other regional groupings emerged. Japan raised the idea of an East Asian Community focused on economic ties, while Australia's then-prime minister Kevin Rudd mooted an Asia-Pacific Community that would include the US.


Geoengineering can't please everyone

Adding aerosols to the atmosphere will not counter global warming in all regions.

AeroplaneReleasing sulphates from aeroplanes would not ward off the effects of global warming equally well for all regions of the world.iStockphoto

Attempting to offset global warming by injecting sunlight-reflecting gases into the upper atmosphere isn't the quick fix for global climate change that advocates believe it might be, a new study finds.

In a paper published today in Nature Geoscience1, Kate Ricke, a climate physicist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and her colleagues show, by modelling, that not only could solar-radiation management lead to declines in rainfall in the long term, but its effects will also vary by region. Some places will be over-cooled by atmospheric changes that are too small to be effective for their neighbours.

The gases under consideration are sulphur compounds that would produce sulphate aerosols in the upper atmosphere. Geoengineering advocates have proposed injecting large quantities of these materials into the stratosphere, either by shooting them up in artillery shells or releasing them from high-flying aeroplanes. Once there, they would disperse into a thin, bright haze that would reflect enough sunlight back into space to partially or completely offset global warming.

“It confirms that it is not possible to control both temperature and precipitation using stratospheric geoengineering.”

The goal would be to mimic the effects of volcanoes eruptions such as the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which blasted enough sulphates into the stratosphere to temporarily reduce the global temperature by nearly half a degree. Geoengineers propose mimicking this on ever-expanding scales, so that increasing levels of greenhouse gases are offset by ever-greater levels of sunlight reduction.

The new study found that it is fairly easy to design sulphate-injection scenarios that keep the temperature stable until 2080. But, unfortunately, the change in sunlight alters other weather patterns. "It changes the distribution of energy in the troposphere so that it becomes more convectively stable," Ricke says. The result: decreasing precipitation.

Temporary fix

Regional effects are also important. For example, Ricke says, her study found that levels of sulphate that kept China closest to its baseline climate were so high that they made India cold and wet. Those that were best for India caused China to overheat. She notes, however, that both countries fared better either way than under a no-geoengineering policy.

The modellers also found that all of these effects get worse with time. "The compensation is imperfect," Ricke says. "The longer you do it, the more imperfect it becomes."

Global map of  optimal solar radiation management scenariosClick for a larger version of this image.Ricke, K. L., Morgan, M. G. & Allen, M. R. Nature Geosci.

Thus, she says, this type of geoengineering is at best a temporary fix — something people working in the field had always known because it does nothing to prevent the accumulation of carbon dioxide and the resulting acidification of the oceans. "But it might be even more temporary than people had expected."

Other scientists are impressed. "I think the paper is great," says Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology, in Stanford, California. "I offered Kate a postdoc based on these results."

Alan Robock, a geophysicist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, agrees. "It confirms that it is not possible to control both temperature and precipitation using stratospheric geoengineering," he says.

Cloud computing

The researchers used a global climate model, called HadCM3L, from the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Exeter, UK. To run their simulations, however, they made use, a climate-forecasting experiment in which thousands of people volunteer to have their home computers do climate simulations when inactive. "This is something that people can sign up for on home computers that sit idle most of the day," Caldeira says. "When the computer notices it is idle for a while, it starts running climate models."


Announcing Nature Climate Change

Caldeira and Robock are impressed by the use of, but Caldeira points out that as the team only used one model, some of Ricke's specific findings, such as the details of the India–China disparity, might be model-specific.

"I don't think climate modelling is at the point where we should trust one single model at that scale," Caldeira says. "But I think the results are robust in the sense that it's the kind of issue that people will need to face. The qualitative idea is that you're going to have differential results in different regions, and that's going to cause people to want different amounts of this stuff up there, if they want any of it up there at all."

Ricke agrees. "We don't intend these results to give a definitive indication of what's going to happen," she says. "It's more an illustration of the type of regional effect you would see."


AIDS breakthrough: vaginal gel helps block virus

A drop of microbicide gel is photographed as it is squeezed from an applicator at the Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Friday Oct. 28. (AP / Denis Farrell)

A drop of microbicide gel is photographed as it is squeezed from an applicator at the Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, South Africa, Friday Oct. 28. (AP / Denis Farrell)

Researchers at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna are claiming a huge victory, saying they have developed a vaginal gel that can significantly reduce a woman's risk of contracting HIV.

Women in South Africa who volunteered to test the gel cut their chances of contracting the virus by 50 per cent after one year of use and 39 per cent after 2 1/2 years, compared to a gel that contained no medicine.

The researchers also discovered that the gel cut in half the chances of getting HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes.

Scientists call the gel a breakthrough in the search for a way to help women whose partners refuse to use condoms.

"We are giving hope to women," Michel Sidibe, the executive director of the World Health Organization's UNAIDS program, said in a statement. A gel could "help us break the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic," he said.

Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, called it a "historic day for HIV prevention research."

"We congratulate the trial sponsors, scientific collaborators, and partners who conducted this trial, and especially want to thank the nearly 900 South African women whose altruism and commitment as trial volunteers made this effort possible," Warren said in a news release.

The gel is colourless and odourless and spiked with the AIDS antiretroviral drug, tenofovir. It's inserted into the vagina using an applicator that resembles a tampon applicator before and after intercourse.

The trial of 889 women in both an urban community and a rural community showed that the women largely used the gel as directed, suggesting the product should work in the real world.

Women who used the gel more consistently were much less likely to be infected. A survey revealed that 99 per cent of the women said they would use the gel consistently if they knew for sure that it prevented HIV.

The gel also seemed safe; the only observed side effect was mild diarrhea. What's more, researchers say the gel is cheap: The microbicide is cheap to produce, and the gel itself cost only pennies. Even the applicator is inexpensive, at just 32 cents each.

Nearly 20 years of research have gone into development of a vaginal gel that could be controlled by a woman. Researchers made their breakthrough after finding that in studies in monkeys, tenofovir appeared to protect against both vaginal and rectal HIV infection.

Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, described the findings as "exciting".

"We look forward to seeing these results confirmed. Once they have been shown to be safe and effective, the WHO will work with countries and partners to accelerate access to these products," she said in a statement to the Vienna conference.

About half the people living with HIV in the world are women. In sub-Saharan Africa, more women are infected than men.

The researchers say they are optimistic that with further work, they can improve the microbicide gel's efficacy even further. Researchers are already working on another trial larger of the gel which will involve 5,000 women in South Africa, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe, to further test the gel's safety and efficacy.


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