On Film: A Bright, Bright Stream

There is no doubt that The Bright Stream is a ballet filled with bounty. It happens in a literal sense, taking place as it does in the agricultural countryside and including a parade of giant fruits and vegetables.

But more importantly, The Bright Stream is the imaginative comedic concoction of prolific choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who can design his own veritable cornucopia of steps, seemingly at the drop of a hat.

Mr. Ratmansky discovered the work while at the Bolshoi Ballet. It has a vivid history, created by Fyodor Lopukhov for its premiere in 1935. The production was an instant hit, but was immediately banned from the stage by a Soviet regime who thought it too light-hearted in portraying life in the Kolkhozy countryside.

So it languished in obscurity until 2003 when Mr. Ratmansky unveiled his own version, this time, too, a great success.

Now it has been filmed for Emerging Pictures’ Ballet in Cinema series. So if you can’t see it at the Bolshoi or at American Ballet Theatre, where Mr. Ratmansky currently resides, this is the next best thing.

The Bolshoi production, though, features an impressive scenic design by Boris Messerer, decidedly Russian in scale with a hammer and sickle on the front drop that opens to reveal a robust backdrop with stylized fields.

The original Shostakovich score is surprisingly tuneful and carries the ballet with a buoyancy that is absolutely delightful.

But now for the dance.

There is no one currently choreographing in a traditional manner that can muster the talent, intelligence and panache of Mr. Ratmansky in telling a story with such a masterful command of the ballet vocabulary.

The story itself is simple. A troupe of artists (how convenient!) arrives at a farm called The Bright Stream for a holiday.

It’s a great set-up for Zina, who used to study ballet, and her flirtatious husband Pyotr, who becomes dazzled by the company Ballerina, who, in turn, studied with Zina at ballet school.

The Ballerina, however, has no interest in Pyotr, so she and Zina devise a plan to trick him. But the spirited performer and her dancing partner also decide to tease an Old Dacha Dweller and his wife by cross-dressing and doing a little flirting of their own.

Just don’t think too hard and enjoy the choreographic sophistication that abounds. So there is a bouquet of duets for Zina and the ballerina, the ballerina (as a young man) and the old lady, the male dancer (a muscular Sylph worthy of the Trocks) and Old Dacha Dweller and more.

Actually it is a very democratic ballet, with terrific solo roles for an Accordion Player, a village woman in a white head scarf and a bastion of men. And, of course, there is cause for scads of celebration dances among the ensemble.

It amounts to merrymaking for all, including the viewer. And the Bolshoi makes the most of it.

The first act virtually flies by with good nature and good humor and what amounts to its own “bright stream” of dances. The second act is at first

Photos: Damir Yusupov

dominated by Ruslan Skortsov as the Ballet Dancer, using plenty of tongue-in-cheek with some very skillful pointe work in his segments. In the end, though, The Bright Stream rightly belongs to the women, who, dressed identically, pull off a masked duet to teach Pyotr a lesson and make him appreciate his wife.

Svetlana Lunkina, as Zina, has a refreshing delicacy, but it is Maria Alexandrova’s Ballerina who steals the show, ever exuberant throughout, but particularly in her signature grand jetes.

The Bright Stream is, in the end, a show, sort of like the high entertainment of one of those first-rate 40‘s MGM film musicals, but without the conversation or the lyrics. You just come away from it with a song in your heart and a lilt in your step.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Bright Stream still runs through May 15. Check Listings. (And note that the Bolshoi’s Raymonda hits town this summer.)

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