"The Bright Stream in HD"
Empire 25 Theater
New York, NY
November 6, 2016
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2016 by Carol Pardo
Seeing dance live is better than seeing it filmed, but film is better than nothing, and sometimes there are unexpected side benefits; this was my first look at the renovated Bolshoi Theater, vast and sea green. (The performance dates from 2012; this was a rebroadcast.) But more important, it was a chance to revisit Alexei Ratmansky's original production of "The Bright Stream", created in 2003, last seen in New York in 2005, and firmly rooted in Lopukhov's libretto and the score by Shostakovich from 1935. The charm and humor of Ratmansky's version shone through on film."The Bright Stream" examines the repercussions of a visit by a ballerina and her partner on the inhabitants of a farm collective at harvest time. The ballet's nocturnal shenanigans bring to mind "A Midsummer Night's Dream" whose mortals behave foolishly, and Bournonville's "King's Guards at Amager" in which, as here, a man's wandering eye is brought up short by a hastily hatched plot and a masked temptress (who turns out to be his wife) and the status quo remains intact.
Film also preserves performances worth preserving, particularly that of Maria Alexandrova as the Ballerina, a role made for her. Alexandrova has a strong buoyant unforced jump jubilant in the first act while adding credibility to her character's temporary transformation into a man in the second. She also has large round eyes which read well through the camera lens and were full of fun, even when being spun around in a stag pose only inches from the floor. Hers is the performance that energized the entire film, as any catalyst should.
Like his partner, the Ballet Dancer, performed by Ruslan Svortskov, was not on the lookout for romance. Nor was he particularly eager to don a long, filmy white skirt, submitting with a resigned shrug to his altered identity. Svortskov's sylph was all line, lightness, and seemingly effortless pointe work. He put less emphasis on her womanliness. Besides, one would have to be besotted or blind, like the Old Dacha Dweller without his glasses, not to see the chest hair showing above this sprite's bodice.
As the Old Dacha Dweller and his wife, Alexi Loparevich and Anastasia Vinokur were the Jack Sprat and his wife of the collective. He, tall and reedy, a little befuddled (even with his glasses) was game to follow her lead. She, much shorter, wider, lower to the ground was still attractive if not as young as she would like to be. Their present tenderness, mixed with the comfort of habit, made credible their attraction, years ago.
This film also set in motion the impulse to compare and contrast this production designed by Boris Messerer (whose uncle Asaf danced in the original) with American Ballet Theatre's, borrowed from the Latvian National Ballet with sets by Ilya Utkin and costumes by Elena Markovskaya. Messerer's world is all about fecundity. On the first act back drop, planted fields, grain as high as an elephant's eye, block out the sky; the nocturnal set looks like a jungle, not the North Caucasus. Only at the finale is the sky revealed, deep cobalt with rays that pulse and glitter. This visual exuberance continues in the costumes; only the young girl Galya wears a solid color; it stops the eye cold. ABT's sets and costumes are flatter, more spare. At the Bolshoi Pyotr (Mikhail Lobukhin), the husband tempted by Ballerina, is dressed in a v-neck sweater and prints, prints, prints in shades of red. Give him a letter sweater and he'd look just like the newest arrival on campus in an old Hollywood movie, young and still wet behind the ears. Markovskaya outfits Pyotr in a formfitting short sleeved shirt whose lines show off the body underneath. It is no surprise that a character dressed like that would be more assured in his pursuit and probably more experienced. Such can be the power of sets and costumes.
Yet the final witty, procession of the giant vegetables which I remembered so fondly from 2005, the joining of fecundity and of all's well that ends well -- a happy collective is a productive collecting producing extraordinary produce -- didn't come across on screen. Svetlana Lunkina, as Pyotr's wife and the Ballerina's (ballet) school friend was rather bland. What had he seen in her and she in him? The width of the Bolshoi stage was periodically too much for the camera's limited view, and it took a while to grow accustomed to shots which focused on the upper body and panned out rather than shooting the body in full. But in general this was not a dance film but a recording of a performance, and much the better for it. Now if it would only be made commercially available.