Bright Stream

The Bright Stream
American Ballet Theatre
June 11, 2011

After a dreary week in which I had to skip Thursday's premiere of Bright Stream, I decided to cheer myself up by going to the Saturday matinee performance at the ABT. It was absolutely a delight from start to finish, and I had the extra bonus of seeing Bolshoi superstars Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova. What could be better?

Bright Stream is Alexei Ratmansky's revival of Dmitri Shostakovich's ill-fated ballet, which so angered Josef Stalin that the librettist for the original ballet librettist was sent to a gulag. The crime? Apparently this bright, sunny "tractor" ballet was considered too frivolous as a depiction of Soviet farm life. For a long time, Bright Stream seemed lost to ballet history. But in 2003, Ratmansky rechoreographed and revived this long-lost ballet to great acclaim for the Bolshoi Ballet, and this year the ABT acquired the ballet. Ratmansky's choreography is consistently entertaining and engaging, and Shostakovich's score has lost none of its bright, bouncy, sunny charm. This is also the perfect ballet for a smaller company like the ABT. The corps de ballet, which often looks so ragged in Swan Lake or Giselle, looked great today. The whole company seemed happy to be dancing, and it was overall just a wonderful and entertaining way to spend an afternoon.

The plot is simple but complicated, if that makes sense. Zina (Xiomara Reyes) and Pyotr (Ivan Vasiliev) are a happy farming couple whose lives are interrupted by Zina's old friend, who is now a glamorous Ballerina (Natalia Osipova), and her glamorous dancing partner (Danil Simkin). Pyotr is infatuated with the Ballerina, and the two women decide to teach the husband a lesson. There's also a sub-plot about two old Dacha Dwellers, (Susan Jones and Clinton Luckett), and a host of secondary characters, but it's best not to get too bogged down in the details of the plot. Just enjoy the comedy and the delightful music.

Ratmansky's choreography is one big reason to see this ballet. It's consistently funny, charming, and keeps the audience cheering. Farmers do cartwheels, there's a dancing dog, dancers ride a bicycle while posed in arabesque, a man dances in a Sylph costume (and the diminutive Danil Simkin was weirdly convincing not just as a man-in-drag on pointe, but as an actual Sylph), and the role for the Ballerina gently parodies the famously muscular Bolshoi style. In other words, it's the perfect role for Natalia Osipova, who throws herself into the role with her usual gusto. Her amazing jump never ceases to astonish (she can seemingly cross the huge Met stage with one grande jete), and at one point she hurled herself in the air across the stage into Vasiliev's arms (echoes of Kitri), but she also made herself fit into this ensemble ballet. Her rapport with Reyes (Zina) was unexpectedly genuine, and Osipova when dancing with Reyes toned down some of her more extreme extensions and explosive power to fit Reyes' more low-key style. I loved Osipova's cabrioles in Act Two, when she dresses herself up as a man. Reyes in turn seemed energized by Osipova's presence and danced with more gusto and less cutesiness than I've ever seen her. She completed some great fouettes, with doubles thrown in. Susan Jones was also very funny as the Anxious-to-be-Younger-Than-She-Is Dacha Dweller. She earned well-deserved applause for pushing herself on pointe.

The men were equally strong as the women. Ivan Vasiliev as Pyotr wowed the crowd with his barrel turns, lightning fast pirouettes (with little hops while devlishly turning a la seconde) and huge, stage-devouring jumps, but he also made the character delightfully boyish and endearing. The fact that he's easy on the eyes helps. This Pyotr isn't so much an intentionally philandering husband as a misbehaving child. His pas de deux with a disguised Zina was a highlight. Daniil Simkin as the Ballet Dancer in the second act has one of the funniest pieces of choreography, as he disguises himself as a Ballerina and dances a pas de deux with the Old Dacha Dweller (Clinton Luckett). Ratmansky has the Sylph parody parts of Giselle, Les Sylphides, and even Apollo (the famous "swimming" moment). Simkin danced on pointe with no notable strain, and as I mentioned earlier, his small frame and androgynous looks made him believable as a Ballerina. He even executed a nice triple pirouette. Craig Salstein almost stole the show in the first act as an accordion player.

I could go on about the ballet, but the bottom line is: it's just so damned fun. So if you're in a bad mood because of a guy, work, an expired ATM card, anything, just go to Bright Stream, and your day will seem brighter.


  1. you guys are incredible dancers, where are you next gonna perform??


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