Ballet lovers are already looking forward to a new season of seven wonderful ballets from Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet company which will be screened at Cinema Nouveau theatres in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg over the next six months.
The first of these ballets is The Bright Stream, which releases on Saturday, 22 October for four screenings only – on 22, 26 and 27 October at 19:30 and on 23 October at 14:30. The other productions in this season include: The Golden Age (from 12 November), The Nutcracker (17 December), Swan Lake (18 February 2017), The Sleeping Beauty (10 March), A Contemporary Evening (21 April) and finally, A Hero of our Time (12 May). The ballets are brought to the big screen by Fathom Events, BY Experience and Pathé Live. I was fortunate enough to be able to preview this wonderful first movie of the season, The Bright Stream Live from the Bolshoi just before it opens over the weekend.
The Bright Stream, is set in Communist Russia, on a collective farm, at harvest time to music by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). The ballet received its world premiere in Leningrad (St Petersburg) in 1935 where it performed to both critical acclaim and sold out audiences. The ballet makes use of slapstick comedy and it is a delight to watch which makes it all the more surprising that it was banned by the Communist Government after Stalin saw it at its Moscow premiere in 1936. Shostakovich wrote three ballets, The Golden Age, The Bolt and The Bright Stream, and all three were banned. From then on much of Shostakovich’s music was banned and the rest seldom played, save for a few of his most popular tunes. The librettist for The Bright Stream, Adrian Piotrovsky, was sent to a gulag over the ballet and never heard of again until his death a few years later. The original choreographer, Fedor Lopukhov, was stripped of is position as director of the Bolshoi Ballet and only ever choreographed student ballets thereafter – well, there was a dog riding a bicycle and a cross dressed principal dancer in it – and men were en pointe.
Alexei Ratmansky, the director of the Bolshoi, first came across the full score in a recording made by Rozhdestvensky in Stockholm in 1995 and he was delighted with how danceable it was with its wonderful variety of adagios, waltzes and polkas and he revived it. The choreography was lost, but Ratmansky did his best to recapture it by the using the brilliantly detailed libretto notes. In the process he created a uniquely Soviet ballet, very different to anything any other company in Russia was producing and vastly different to anything the West was producing. Alexei Ratmansky researched it and choreographed it as best he could according to the stories told of the lost original. Ratmansky’s version premiered in 2003. Everything about it is delightful. One of my favourite little touches is a steam train that wends its way through the countryside in the background.
The plot is fairly complex, but the Bolshoi website has a comprehensive synopsis in English, for pre-viewing reading. Basically it involves an overly flirtatious husband (Pyotr) danced by Mikhail Lobukhin, his wife (Zina) danced by Svetlana Lunkina, and a ballerina danced by Maria Alexandrova and her partner, Principal Dancer Ruslan Skvortsov dressed as a Sylph. It turns out that Zina is also a ballerina, who amazingly can still dance even though her husband has no idea she can dance (indulge them here with willing suspension of disbelief), and she and the ballerina studied together. They swop roles to teach the unfaithful Pyotr a lesson. Denis Savin is the Accordionist and Alexei Loparevich is the Old Dacha Dweller.
This unusual gem really is worth seeing. I loved it (even though I had to sneak out before it ended). Book at Computicket for Cinema Nouveau.