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About the Change

Bolshoi Ballet

‘The Bright Stream’

August 2007
London, Coliseum

© Jeffery Taylor
Former dancer, Dance Critic and an Arts feature writer for the Sunday Express. Pub 19 08 2007

© John Ross

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The Bolshoi Ballet’s farewell programme of a truly thrilling visit to London was an exuberant and dazzling send up of Soviet propaganda.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s third 1935 “Soviet ballet” The Bright Stream, has been re-worked by Bolshoi director, Alexei Ratmansky into a glorious caricature of one of the most tragic episodes in Russia’s troubled Soviet era, the collective farm. They are all there in the Caucasian Bright Stream Collective; the strong, headscarved women astride the cornfields; the quaint old Cossack cadging fags; tractor driving, square jawed heroes. We even have a flight of early fighter planes and a steam driven locomotive in Boris Messerer’s richly colourful autumnal settings, a florid cornucopia that would make any Communist PR proud.

At this point it was wise to close the Bolshoi programme where it said Synopsis. The ballet’s convoluted story makes Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream look like Bo Peep. Suffice to say into the Collective’s harvest festival celebrations, led by its morale officer Zina (Ekaterina Krysanova) and husband Pyotr (Andrei Merkuriev), come a troupe of Moscow artists led by The Ballerina (Natalia Osipova) and The Classical Dancer (Sergei Filin). The why is superfluous, the only point is endless, superb dancing. The female corps de ballet is terrific in acres of floral print and pinafores, matched by assorted Cossacks in aggressive red and white fur and it would take a choreographic illiterate not to respond to Shostakovich’s melodic flow.

Anastasia Vinokur - The Old-Dacha-Dweller’s-anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is-Wife and Alexei Loparevich as The Old Dacha Dweller in The Bright Stream
© John Ross

Ratmansky marshals the stage superbly, even though in limited space thanks to the Bolshoi sized sets on a much smaller Coliseum stage. He deals with tractors, giant cucumbers and dancers with equal aplomb, plucking his soloists from the masses to display their talent as well as his own inventiveness. Krysanova’s Zina was immediately captivating as she sadly tries to recapture the love of her husband Pyotr. Perfectly proportioned and enjoying a natural, all embracing technique, she has an elusive but riveting quality that makes a classical dancer unique, a fluid and lyrical physical harmony coupled to a naturally powerful gift of communication. Natalia Osipova (London’s sweetheart after last week’s Don Quixote) naturally, and quite rightly, garnered the cheers. But when she danced a duet with Krysanova, the combined impact of superb schooling, talent and commitment was truly mind blowing.

After the interval - chaos. Osipova is a chap, Filin is a Sylphide, The Tractor Driver (Andrei Bolotin) a dog and The Old Dacha-dweller (Alexei Loparevich) very nearly an adulterous old fool. Anastasia Vinokur as The Old Dacha-dweller’s anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is Wife, almost steals the show with a rare gift for mimed comedy reeling dizzily from infatuation with a younger man to frenzied attempts to recapture lost looks and finally as a rifle wielding wronged wife seeking retribution. Strikingly funny was The Accordian-player Gennady Yanin’s ferociously virile courtship of Galya, Ksenia Pchelkina, sending the pig tailed schoolgirl into adolescent raptures, but best of all was Sergei Filin’s fairy. Dressed in white net and with a circlet of rose buds on his head, Filin, like all great comedy mimes, played it straight down the middle as he/she drove the octogenarian Dacha-dweller into a late flowering lust. One of the great dancers of his generation, a moving Filin is a pleasure to watch regardless of gender, and his grave approach made passing references to classics like Giselle and La Sylphide even funnier.

Sergei Filin in Act 2 of The Bright Stream
© John Ross

The grand finale gathers up all the dangly bits and everyone ends with the right lover, an idyllic resolution to an exhilarating evening of dance. We have watched the Bolshoi Ballet visit our shores for half a century, surviving cataclysmic political, financial and social upheavals. Never has the company looked so full of talent, hope and the joy of dance as they have these past three weeks; but most important of all is their unquenchable desire to spread it around the world. Come back soon.

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