The Bright Stream review at Royal Opera House – ‘Shostakovich ballet suffers from comedy cliché overkill’
Shostakovich’s ballet about a farm workers’ collective in the Russian Steppes was briefly popular in 1935 until an article in Pravda damned it as “ballet fraud”. Subsequently banned by Stalin, it was lost until Alexei Ratmansky discovered the score and created a new version in 2003.
While the music remains as sweet and varied as a box of chocolates, the ballet itself is stuffed with comedy clichés, many of which are inspired by better works.
As the farm labourers greet incoming artists from Moscow to celebrate the Harvest Festival – represented by a huge ochre backdrop of wheat sheaves, across which miniature tractors trundle – inappropriate romantic entanglements ensue.
The solutions involve cross-dressing – a man in a Sylphide tutu and a girl as a Rosalind-type boy – to teach the would-be adulterers a lesson. There is also a potential conflict between the Cossacks and the Caucasians to be dealt with.
Ratmansky throws in just about everything he can lay his hands on to augment and extend the classical/folk dance foundation: waltz, tango, a hint of hip hop, a Busby Berkeley sequence in which a group of girlfriends (a superbly drilled sextet) fold and unfold like a giant flower, and the shimmying shoulders of jazz dance all make an appearance.
In his white French tutu and pointe shoes, hairy-chested Ruslan Skvortsov makes the most of his cross-dressing role, although anyone who has seen Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo will be familiar with the comic tropes. And the mismatched married couple with google-eyes for others are refugees from Jerome Robbins’ The Concert.
Ratmansky’s choreography is rarely less than inventive and the dancers respond in style, particularly Igor Tsvirko, whose elevation and comic timing are matched by an eye-catching expressiveness, and Denis Savin, as a lecherous accordion-player whose legs weave in and out like the instrument of his choice.
As the visiting Ballerina, Ekaterina Krysanova displays a powerful technique, firing off a series of grand jetés to break up a fight between the Kuban Cossacks and the Caucasians.
Even if Ratmansky is parodying heavy-handed, Soviet-style humour, the cumulative effect is of comic cliché overkill and it ultimately lacks the fleet-footed lightness of Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée.
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