Bolshoi Ballet – The Bright Stream

Alexandrova is poetry in movement, mesmerising in everything she does, her every muscle harnessed to artistic expression.
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Set on a collective farm, The Bright Stream is a wry, tongue-in-cheek comedy involving disguise, cross-dressing and intrigue. When a troupe of dancers arrive at the farm for harvest festival and perform to rival camps of soldiers, farming routines and romantic partnerships are turned upside down and inside out, and a flirtatious, mischievous mayhem reigns supreme.

A cycling dog, a milked cow, Ruslan Skvortsov dancing brilliantly in drag in a flimsy white frock, female ballet shoes and socks, an accordionist and two elderly, yet leery dacha dwellers are all elements in this gender-bending ballet.

The lampooning vibe is enhanced by the folksy, boho look of Boris Messerer’s backdrops. In the first few seconds, the backdrop is a vista of bountiful sheaves of wheat. There’s a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the Soviet Union’s propaganda machine when the grim reaper makes a brief appearance in Act Two.

One of the most striking factors – apart from the consistently high standards in this ‘tractor ballet’, a genre in praise of Soviet agriculture – is the extraordinary synergy between Alexei Ratmunsky’s choreography and Shostakovich’s angular, spiky music. With its traditional Russian and Cossack dance influences, Ratmunsky achieves stunning fluency in his dancerly design that is ideally matched to the breezy score.  

The choreography pillories and characterises individuals as well as dancing ensembles, and can be comical, as when Anastasia Vinokur as the elderly Dacha dweller makes a hash of au pointe technique. Nina Kaptsova’s solos and jealousy-fuelled fouette turns as Zina the entertainment organiser are superb, as is Pyotr, Denis Savin, who excels in showy, almost airbourne displays as her philandering husband.

When Ratmunsky discovered the score to this irreverent ballet that was so cruelly censored and banned by Stalin in 1935, he was inspired, because he found the music so attuned to ballet with its lively polkas, jazzy infusions and mazurkas. Astutely conducted by Pavel Sorokin, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra achieved striking clarity with a crisp articulation of the buoyant rhythm.

Alexandrova has star quality. She is poetry in movement, mesmerising in everything she does, whether it is a chain of flawlessly executed pirouettes, throwing her bouquet of flowers into the orchestra pit, dancing disguised as her Bright Stream male partner, or acting. Every muscle in her face and body is unswervingly harnessed to artistic expression.

Those lucky enough to see both Bolshoi Productions in Brisbane last week couldn’t fail to be impressed by the flawless execution of the entire company in Le Corsaire but would have unconditionally enjoyed this light-hearted Russian masterpiece in which the entire cast danced with admirable conviction, pride and enjoyment. It was a performance to make Stalin turn in his grave and Shostakovich, the imprisoned and eventually executed co-librettist Adrian Piotrovsky and original choreographer Fedor Lopukhov, smile with contented glee.

The Bright Stream
Bolshoi Ballet

Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

7 – 9 June

Gillian Wills
About the Author
Gillian Wills writes for ArtsHub and has published with Griffith Review, The Australian Book Review, The Australian, Limelight Magazine, Courier Mail, Townsville Bulletin, The Strad, Musical Opinion, Cut Common, Loudmouth, Artist Profile and Australian Stage Online. Gillian is the author of Elvis and Me: How a world-weary musician and a broken ex-racehorse rescued each other (Finch Publishing) which was released in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and America in January, 2016.