THE BRITE STREAM
June 4, 2012
What could be more fun than life in The Bright Stream Farm Collective? According to Alexei Ratmansky's "The Brite Stream" based on the Soviet- era 1935 ballet by Fydor Lopukhov to a commissioned score by Shostakovich, administrative buffoons and egotistical peasants kick up quite the party atmosphere.
This comedy, and there aren't too many dance comedies, gives Ratmansky free reign to develop a vivid palette of characters. Following in the footseps of deft theater directors, Ratmansky assigns each character a specific movement motif establishing identities clearly and speedily. Driving the ballet along, Shostakovitch's bright musical score bubbles through marches, folk riffs, and waves of melodic passages.
When a train unloads a troupe of entertainers to help celebrate the harvest, two ballet stars bump into a former ballet mate, Zina. The social dynamics get a melodramatic shaping when Zina's husband gets gooey over the ballerina, and an elderly Dacha couple fancy themselves attractive to the glamorous ballet couple.
The first act set- up is coiled around animated community circle dances, acrobatic exaltations of joy, Cossack squat kicks, and arms overlapping shoulders in dances of camaraderie. Workers are awash in Elena Markovskaya's brightly colored outfits featuring women in solid colored skirts draped over bright prints and turban scarves, alongside men either in black Cossak uniforms and red sashes or tan pants and white shirts. They stand out from the light blue sky and floating clouds suspended over a field of sunflowers.
The stage full of workers rip through bouncy hops and turns, facing each other in two lines of men and women, then tumbling into cartwheels and the signature body bob where a woman's arms stretch over two men's shoulders flipping her body forward and back as if on a swing or a bell ringing from a church steeple.
When dancing together, Zina and the ballerina mirror each other's stretched out arabesques and fouettes. In a poignant moment, Zina draws her foot along a wide circle on the floor, as if describing a longing for her ballerina days (same gesture appears with equal poignancy in Frederick Ashton's The Dream).
In one cast, Paloma Herrera (Zina) and Gillian Murphy (Ballerina) were matched and in another, it was Xiomara Reyes (Zina) and Isabella Boylston (Ballerina) who replaced an ailing Osipova. Both casts were effective, but Herrera and Murphy share physical and technical attributes that heighten the competitive tension while swallowing oceans of air in their gaping leaps and ripping off wicked turns. Appealingly fresh and innocent, Reyes was congenial and Boylston fared particularly well when she dressed up as her husband repeating his earlier, high flying solo of leaps and back leg beats.
Of course, the funniest bit comes in the Second Act when the two young couples punk the older Dacaha couple. The male ballet dancer squeezes into a white tutu and the ballerina slips into a dark suit. Again, two casts realized the roles with distinction. Tall and lean, David Hallberg (Ballet Dancer) and his flippy cowlick bound out towering over the stooped, Dacha elder Victor Barbee. Slipping between shlumpy guy and delicate ballerina, he nearly makes a case for men on pointe. Finely boned and half as tall as Hallberg, Danil Simkin is an utter marvel on point. Hilariously transforming himself into a sylph, he clutzes about and then effortlessly holds a one legged balance and rips off a triple pirouette. Oh, yes he did. (Question: Might he be cast as Giselle, say as part of an ABT Gala excerpt?)
In the role of the errant young husband, performed on two separate nights by Marcello Gomes and Herman Cornejo, both navigate their speedy turns and jumps with aplomb while forming a convincing picture of an easily distracted young man. Another juicy role goes to the over-the-hill flirtatious elderly Dacha lady played by Martine Van Hamel and Susan Jones. Both are quite funny, but Van Hamel takes an exaggerated approach, in movement and largely inscribed make-up while Jones injects the subtle timing of a master comedienne--not unlike Red Skelton. One of last year's performance shockers, Jones wowed audiences because she played her part straight, injecting total believability in her outrageous, girlish bourees and hefty jumps; arm wavings and almost back-bends.
And although many deserve mention, Craig Salstein proved his dramatic chops by completing filling out his role as the Accordian Player with physical detail that points to a blossoming, top tier dramatic dancer.
This ballet undeniably highlights the dramatic and ensemble capabitlites of American Ballet Thaeter at the Metropolitan Opera House.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis