The Bright Stream
16th and 18th August (mat & eve)
It was with a slight sense of sadness that I took my seat for the final production of the Bolshoi season, simply because it signalled the end of three glorious weeks, but the sure cure for the blues is a performance of Bright Stream, the happiest, funniest ballet in the company’s repertoire. First seen in London last year, this ballet instantly established itself as a favourite with the London ballet fans and this time around we had the bonus of several newcomers in the leading roles to admire.
Bright stream is basically a story of romantic wrangles on a summer evening at a collective farm in Russia in the 1930’s with lots of mistaken identities, some intended, but unsuccessful infidelities and a rollicking happy ending. The visiting Ballerina who inspires the romantic attentions of her ex-school friend’s young husband and of an elderly shortsighted eccentric was danced by the Bolshoi’s golden girl, Natalia Osipova on the first night and at the Saturday matinee. Very different in both style and physique from the role’s creator, Alexandrova, I couldn’t quite imagine her in the part when I first saw her name on the programme, but with her fearless technique and bold stage presence, I was soon won over, my only reservation being that she should have had a shorter partner than Filin or Godovsky as surely even that very besotted lady who mistakes her for an attractive young man would have noticed such a dramatic difference in height. Putting that one reservation aside I have to say Osipova danced superbly with her unbelievably high jetés and that courageous jump into the arms of her partner leaving the audience slightly dazed and questioning the evidence of their own eyes; technique apart though, the role is ideal for her with her sincere acting and the unusual clarity of her mime.
As her former school friend, Zina, I saw two casts, Ekaterina Krysanova on Thursday night and Nina Kaptsova at the Saturday matinee. As far as the dancing went both these girls were marvellous though Krysanova was the better actress as she does vulnerable rather well and looked convincingly crushed when her thoughtless husband took an interest in her friend, but the shorter Kaptsova was so similar to Osipova in both height and build that to mistake the wife for the ballerina was clearly an error any young man with an eye to an illicit tryst would have made. Pyotr, the erring husband, was Andrei Merkuriev at both these performances and it was a role that fitted him like a glove. The move to the Bolshoi has been highly beneficial for Merkuriev with roles more suitable to his talents than those he danced at the Kirov as he seems on the one hand to excel in the modern repertoire and on the other hand to possess finely honed acting skills. Merkuriev’s youthful appearance makes his interpretation of Pyotr a little more sympathetic than others in this role as his irresponsibility towards his wife comes across more as a boyish flirtation than as a serious threat to his marriage.
Of course it’s the Classical Dancer who gets to steal the show, Sergei Filin on the first and last nights and Yan Godovsky at the matinee. Filin (in what has been rumoured to be his last London season) was once again gloriously funny done up to impersonate a sylph, his comic timing is perfection as he flits across the stage in his borrowed frock causing his foolish old admirer to be totally taken in by his display of faux femininity before getting whacked by the old man’s similarly duped wife. At the matinee Yan Godovsky’s Classical Dancer seemed more reluctant towards the idea of cross dressing initially, only getting into his stride after the fortifying swig of vodka frees up his inhibitions allowing him to fling himself wholeheartedly into a drunkenly unsteady virtuoso display.
Of the amorous older couple from the dacha, the husband was once again spindly Alexei Loparevich, looking like one of Chekhov’s more outlandish characters but new to the role of his wife was Anastasia Vinokur; short and plump with a Spanish fixation she looked just like a McGill postcard caricature come to life as she teetered dangerously on her red pointes and wielded her fan as a weapon. The mis-match in height made this couple even funnier than last year.
The last night brought Maria Alexandrova, Svetlana Lunkina and Filin back to their original roles with Vladimir Neporozhny as Pyotr. It was a performance perfectly balanced between virtuosity and humour with the entire cast giving of their very best to bring to a memorable end what has been the most incredible season. As quickly as the fans threw flowers onto the stage at the end, so did the dancers throw them back into the audience in a typically Russian gesture of thanks, so overwhelming was the ovation that Alexandrova was bushing away a few tears. If she was sorry to be leaving us, we were even sorrier to see her go.