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The latest work in this enjoyable Bolshoi Ballet season is The Bright Stream. It is a re-visiting by the choreographer and troupe-director Alexey Ratmansky to one of the most celebrated (because victimised) Shostakovich ballet scores, whose production in 1936 was greeted with a blast of Stalinist rage. The description of the staging as “ballet fraud” was the official response to joyously populist music and a politically lightweight tale of life on a kolkhoz in the Kuban region.
Ratmansky’s staging in 2003 brought back something of life and art in the Soviet 1930s: happy workers, mass jubilation, the smiling falsity of Soviet posters, vividly realised in Boris Messerer’s designs and in the resources of the choreography, where every cliché tells a story. I reported on the production from a Bolshoi season in Paris two years ago with some misgivings. On Thursday at Covent Garden, the presentation looked to me better focused, jollier.
After the débâcle of the recent Mariinsky rehabilitation of The Golden Age, Shostakovich’s theatre music (magnificently played by the Bolshoi’s orchestra under Pavel Sorokin) delights as it should, and inspired the cast to eager playing. The narrative – townies arrive at a kolkhoz; amorous intrigues blossom; all’s well that ends well – matters not at all. What delights us is the enthusiasm of the cast led by the adorable Svetlana Lunkina and the no less adorable Maria Alexandrova, with the charming Yury Klevtsov and the equally charming Sergey Filin (who spends the second act as a super-Trock sylphide and is very funny indeed) as their partners. The vital stage-activity is too long for its own good, and in an ideal (if not Soviet-ideal) world there should be cuts in the score, but Ratmansky makes dances that have a clean shape, dramatic verve, and the cast respond with those whole-hearted and full-bodied interpretations that defeat critical carping. Secondary roles are grandly alive – Gennady Yanin as an accordion player, Alexander Petukhov as a tractor driver, are admirable in resource. Here is poster-art (and Soviet poster-art at that) that wins our confidence. On Messerer’s witty front-cloth there are, a Russian friend told me, boldly printed 1930s injunctions to greater effort in the fields, where every cow must give more milk. I’ll be out there in the morning at the udders, I promise. ★★★★☆
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