27 June 2012

The Bright Stream

Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in The Bright Stream. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

When was the last time a ballet made you laugh out loud? For me it was earlier this month when I saw the American Ballet Theatre's production of The Bright Stream. With a score by Dmitri Shostakovich and choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, The Bright Stream was an utter delight.

The setting is a Russian collective farm where Zina, a local amusements organizer, and her husband, Pyotr, wait for the arrival from Moscow of a group of performers to help celebrate the harvest festival. Upon their arrival Zina recognizes the ballerina as an old friend from ballet school and introduces her to Pyotr who sets out to flirt with the newcomer. The farm workers perform for their guests and the old dacha dweller lets the ballerina know he’d like to see her later while his wife, anxious-to-be-younger–than-she-is dacha dweller, tells the ballerina’s partner the same thing. The ballerina comes up with a plan: the ballet duo will dress up as each other and prank the older couple while Zina will masquerade as the ballerina to fool Pyotr. The plan is a success with the cross-dressing ballet duo teaching the dacha dwellers a lesson. The workers gather for a final performance only to find two identical dancers with masks—Zina and the ballerina. After their dance, they remove their disguises and Pyotr, realizing his foolishness, begs his wife for forgiveness.

David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy switch roles. Photo: Andrea Mohin/The NY Times.

From the upbeat tempo of the music to the comical antics of the dancers the ballet was fast moving and fun, a screwball ballet if you will. And how could it not be when you have dancing peasants, a dog riding a bicycle, and multiple cases of mistaken identity?

The best scene was in Act II when the ballerina and the ballet dancer cross-dress. The old dacha dweller, riding a bike and carrying a gun, arrives for his secret assignation when suddenly a very tall “ballerina” in a white dress dashes across the stage. It's the ballet dancer in drag. Hilarity ensues resulting in the "ballet dancer" challenging the old dacha to a duel; luckily the dancers reveal their true identities before anyone can get hurt.

David Hallberg as the ballet dancer was excellent. His imitation of a ballerina, including attempting to dance in toe shoes, was hysterical. Gillian Murphy, the ballerina, did a  great job masquerading as the ballet dancer, strutting around and performing a solo in trousers. Paloma Herrera lent poignancy to Zina’s dances and Marcelo Gomes was charming as the misguided Pyotr.

Paloma Herrera as Zina. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.

What makes this ballet all that more interesting is knowing that it originated in Soviet Russia and at first was a huge success when it debuted in Leningrad in 1935. What isn't so great is learning that the censors in Moscow had issues and the creators were ultimately punished (co-librettist Adrian Pietrovsky was even reportedly sent to the gulag) and the ballet banned. Thankfully time has passed, and we can now enjoy the return of this entertaining Russian ballet.

To find out more about ABT’s season, visit their site here.

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