Tuesday, 8 November 2016

A Bright Stream but not exactly a Live Stream

Standard YouTube Licence

Bolshoi Ballet, The Bright Stream, The New Stage, Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, 29 April 2012 shown at cinemas on 6 Nov 2016

On Sunday afternoon, cinema audiences around the UK were treated to a recording of a performance of Alexei Ratmansky's revival of The Bright Stream that had taken place on the new stage of the Bolshoi Theatre over 4 years ago. The performance was not actually called a recording though the words "Captured live on Apr 29, 2012" do appear at the bottom of the description of the ballet on Pathe Live's website. The Nottingham Showcase cinema, where I saw The Bright Stream, charged me £12 (even after my over 65 concession) to see the film which is not noticeably less than I would have expected to pay for a live transmission from Covent Garden or Moscow.

Having said all that, the film was still worth watching for it was an opportunity to see a rare example of socialist realism in dance.  Dimitri Shostakovich's score is magnificent and Ratmansky's choreography for this work is just as dazzling as his other creations. In addition, Boris Messerer created some gorgeous sets with biplanes and a steam train crossing the stage at various points. However, the plot is not up to much and the jokes are hardly riveting. Even if Stalin had not taken against Shostakovich for his Lady Macbeth of Mtsenskit is hard to see how this work could have remained in any company's repertoire for long.

The history of the ballet was set out by Judith Mackrell in an article for The Guardian entitled Dance of Death which the Bolshoi theatre reproduced on its website. Mackrell tells us that the work was originally choreographed by Lord Keynes's brother in law, Fedor Lopukhov, which connection probably saved his life. The unfortunate dramaturge,  Adrian Piotrovsky, disappeared with millions of others in Stalin's reign of terror. Shostakovich's career was blighted by Soviet officials before and after the second world war but he stayed alive and was spared the labour camps. The reason for Stalin's displeasure is explained in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and the muddle surrounding Shostakovich's opera, an article by Mackrell's colleague Ed Vulliamy which appeared on 25 Sept 2015.

In Dance of Death Mackrell wrote:
"In the mass of Shostakovich centenary events that have taken place this year, ballet fans haven’t had much to celebrate. It’s not that the composer ignored the form — between 1929 and 1935, he wrote a trio of full-length ballet scores: The Golden Age, The Bolt and The Bright Stream. All three, though, were banned shortly after their premieres, leaving Shostakovich’s reputation so damaged, he was reluctant ever to write for the lyric stage again.
It’s a cause of great regret for Russia’s monolithic ballet companies, the Kirov and the Bolshoi. Both are aware that, had Shostakovich been given full artistic freedom, he may have become one of the great modern ballet composers — as inspirational for the dance-makers of Soviet Russia as Stravinsky was for choreographers in the west."
She is right. Shostakovich's music is so danceable. Even though he never received another commission to write a ballet score his life's work which includes music for film has been a rich mine for dance makers as Jean-Christophe has shown with his Taming of the Shrew (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 2 Aug 2016). Shostakovich wrote the music for the piece that my over 55 ballet class at the Northern Ballet Academy performed in Leeds on 28 June 2014 (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014 which Mel Wong reviewed so generously in The Dance DID go on - Northern Ballet Academy Show 2014 28 June 2014).

The main characters in the ballet are Zina, a former dance student who had married Pyotr an agriculture student and buried herself in the countryside, her friend from ballet school who had stuck with ballet and become a dancer with a touring dance troupe and the male lead in the company who appears in plus fours. There are some lovely bits of mime when Zina recognizes her old friend and they catch up on each other's news. "Look at you!" Zina gestures pointing to her friend's clothes. "Are you married?" asks the dancer by pointing to her ring figure, "and do you have any children?" patting three imaginary heads. "And how about you?" "Oh no! Haven't had an opportunity to meet the right bloke" motions the dancer. Pyotr meets the dancer and becomes infatuated leaving Zina quite desolate which is the only bit of drama in the ballet. Happily the ballet dancer is a good sort and agrees to an elaborate subterfuge to teach her erring husband a lesson. The story gets a bit silly after that with the male lead exchanging his plus fours for a tutu. Better than political satire in Soviet eyes, I suppose, but not really the uplifting stuff that might have inspired Stakhanov and his pals to chisel out a few more lumps of coal each day.

On 29 April 2012 Zina was danced by Svetlana Lunkina, the lead female dancer by Maria Alexandrova, Pyotr by Mikhail Lobukhin and the male lead by Ruslan Skvortsov. I had last seen Skvortsov as Siegfried (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016). It was good to see him again in a very different role.

Finally, a message to Janet McNulty whose views on Nixon's Swan Lake are somewhat different from mine. The Bright Stream is another ballet with bikes. If you have not seen it you should. You may like it.

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