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American Ballet Theatre

'The Bright Stream'

by Colleen Boresta

June 2, 2012 (m) -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, NY

‘The Bright Stream’ originally premiered in Leningrad in 1935 to rave reviews and then transferred to the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. The Russian public loved the ballet, but Stalin did not give ‘The Bright Stream’ the governmental seal of approval. Stalin felt that ‘The Bright Stream’ was not a realistic look at the life of Soviet peasants living on a collective. Did Stalin really want a ballet showing the deaths of millions of peasants due to his policy of collectivization as opposed to a light hearted silly romp which happened to be set on a collective? One of the ballet’s co-librettists, Adrian Piotrovsky, was sent to the gulag and never heard from again. The career of co-librettist and choreographer, Fyodor Lopukhov, ended with ‘The Bright Stream’. No performances of Dmitri Shostakovich’s (the composer of ‘The Bright Stream’) music were permitted.

In the early 21st century, Alexei Ratmansky reimagined and rechoreographed ‘The Bright Stream’ for the Bolshoi Ballet. It was a huge success and in 2011 Ratmansky staged the work for American Ballet Theatre. It is a delightfully sparkling piece which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

‘The Bright Stream’ is set on a collective farm (of the same name) in the North Caucasus in the 1930s. Zina, a ballerina turned arts organizer, her husband, Pyotr, and their friends are awaiting the arrival of famous dancers who will entertain the collective workers during the harvest festival. When the artists arrive, Zina finds out that the Ballerina is an old friend from her ballet school days. Zina introduces the Ballerina to Pyotr who begins to flirt with her, much to Zina’s dismay.

Pyotr tries to arrange a secret meeting with the Ballerina. An elderly couple, the Old Dacha Dweller and his wife, the Anxious-to-Be-Younger-Than-She-Is Dacha Dweller, try to set up trysts with the Ballerina and her partner, the Ballet Dancer. Neither Dacha Dweller is aware that their spouse is planning a rendezvous with the dancers.

The Ballerina proposes to Xina and her friends that they play a trick on Pyotr and the Dacha Dwellers. She will wear her partner’s clothes and go meet the Anxious-to-Be-Younger-Than-She-Is Dacha Dweller. The Ballet Dancer will wear the costume of the Sylph from the ballet ‘La Sylphide’ and rendezvous with the Old Dacha Dweller. Zina will seek out her husband dressed in the Ballerina’s costume.
When Act II begins, the collective’s Accordion Player attempts to seduce Galya, a young school girl. Galya’s friend, the Tractor Driver, tells her to go ahead and meet the Accordion Player. He (the Tractor Driver) will wear a dog’s costume and protect Galya from her lecherous suitor.

The Old Dacha Dweller sees his “ballerina” through a clump of trees. Since it is dark (and the Old Dacha Dweller’s eyesight is not what it once was) the old man thinks the “Sylph” is the same woman he met that afternoon. His wife arrives on pointe for her meeting with the “Ballet Dancer” who impresses the old lady with a display of Bolshoi virtuoso “male” dancing.

Zina, disguised as the Ballerina, dances with her husband. He has no idea that she is his wife (even though Zina looks nothing like the “Ballerina”). Zina rushes away in tears.

The Ballerina finds the “Sylph” and the Old Dacha Dweller together and challenges the old man to a duel. The Ballerina shoots first and misses. One of Zina’s friends bangs a pail just as the Old Dacha Dweller prepares to fire his shotgun. The “Sylph” falls to the ground and the old man thinks he has killed “her”. The “corpse” returns to life and the Dacha Dwellers finally realize they have been tricked.

As the harvest festival begins, Pyotr is shocked to see two ballerinas in identical costumes (including masks). When they take off their masks, Pyotr realizes that it was Zina he danced with the night before. Pyotr begs Zina’s forgiveness and they all live happily ever after (in a Soviet collective in the 1930s???).

When I saw ABT perform ‘The Bright Stream’ in 2011, I was totally enchanted. Unfortunately I am somewhat disappointed with ‘The Bright Stream’ performance I saw on June 2nd. I think the main reason I feel this way has to do with the portrayal of Zina, the ballet’s leading lady. Last year I underestimated Xiomara Reyes in the role of Zina. I felt that Reyes was outshone by her co-stars. (Who wouldn’t be upstaged by Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev?) This year, however, I realized that Zina is the linchpin that holds much of ‘The Bright Stream’ together. Reyes’ Zina related to all the other performers, especially Vasiliev’s Pyotr and Osipova’s Ballerina, in a very genuine and natural way.

At the June 2nd matinee Zina is danced by Julie Kent. I am quite surprised by the fact that Kent’s portrayal of Zina is so flat. She not only has no chemistry with Ivan Vasiliev’s Pyotr and Isabella Boylston’s Ballerina, but Kent fails to connect with them in any real way. I find myself not caring about Kent’s Zina. I really can’t blame Pyotr for flirting with other women. With regard to her dancing, Kent seems to merely mark the steps. Everyone else in ‘The Bright Stream’ is dancing full out, but Kent looks like she’s at a dress rehearsal. It’s very sad. Julie Kent is at the end of an illustrious ballet career. I hope I can remember her for her many wonderful performances of the past, and not her 2012 Zina in ‘The Bright Stream’.

As Pyotr, Ivan Vasileiv’s dancing is even more thrilling than when I saw him last year. He whips off twists and turns, as well as executing astonishing 540 degree revolutions. Vasiliev also pulls off some very fast turns a la second where he throws in several jumps. As well Vasiliev has charm and charisma to burn.

Isabella Boylston is a lively and vivacious ballerina with a powerful leap. She does not live up to my memories of Natalia Osipova in the part, but I don’t think anyone could do that. Still I find Boylston to be a dancer with a very promising future. I am looking forward to seeing her perform more leading roles.

No one (no matter how dark the night or how poor their eyesight is) can confuse Johan Kobborg with a “sylph”. His pointe work is very good, however, and he has real comic chemistry with Julio Bragado-Young’s Old Dacha Dweller. But I missed seeing Kobborg’s “Sylph” ride off on the back of the Old Dacha Dweller’s bike in arabesque position. That moment was one of the highlights of 2011’s ‘The Bright Stream’ for me. When Kobborg tries to get on the back of the old man’s bike, he, the Old Dacha Dweller and the bicycle crash to the ground. To me that is not nearly as funny as what I saw last year.

Even though Julio Bragado-Young is much younger than the other ABT Old Dacha Dwellers (Victor Barbee, Clinton Luckett), he makes the old man a three dimensional human being. I actually feel sorry for him when he discovers that he has been tricked by the Ballerina and Ballet Dancer. As his wife, Nicola Curry looks like what she is – a young woman made up to look older. She cannot compare with my memory of the plump Susan Jones (in the same role) teetering on pointe. Jones is a fantastic dance actress. She really inhabited the skin of the old dacha woman. Nicola Curry wears the costume and wig and dances the steps, but she does not begin to capture the character of the Anxious-to-Be-Younger-Than-She-Is Dacha Dweller.

Sascha Radetsky is a wittily sexy Accordion Player who dances a mean tango. Sarah Lane is a cute school girl, but she’s not nearly as funny as Maria Riccetto in the same part. Craig Salstein is not very scary in his dog costume and his bark is not at all ferocious.

To me, the June 2nd matinee of ‘The Bright Stream’ shows the importance of the right dancer having the right part. There are quite a few empty seats in the orchestra section of the Metropolitan Opera House. I wonder if ABT will even perform ‘The Bright Stream’ next year.

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