It does not happen often that you burst out laughing while watching a ballet, nor is it common to see a male dancer in a tutu. Yet The Bright Stream has it all. This Soviet style ballet was banned and forgotten until Alexei Ratmansky revived it in 2003. It succesfully premiered at the Bolshoi and now still amuses, surprises and enchants audiences in Moscow and abroad.

The Boshoi Ballet in <i>The Bright Stream</i> © Damir Yusupov
The Boshoi Ballet in The Bright Stream
© Damir Yusupov

The ballet has a vibrant and dark history. Although set in a collective farm, the dancing farmers, a cycling dog and men on pointe shoes did not amuse the Soviet leaders. The ballet was banned, the careers of composer Shostakovich and choreographer Lopukhov damaged and co-librettist Piotrovsky was send to the gulag and never heard of again. When former Bolshoi Ballet director and choreographer Alexei Ratmansky came across the score in 1995 he was determined to get it back on stage again.

As the ouverture starts, there is a subtle reference to the history. On the front cloth we see headlines of newspapers dating from Soviet times. But when the cloth goes up, a colourful landscape in yellow, orange and gold presents itself, complete with floating tractors and planes and other funny clever details. The set designs by Messerer perfectly fit the joyful mood of the ballet. And joyful it is, as the ballet starts with the preparations of the harvest festival. Think folklore, energetic happy dances and sunny fields. The ballet breathes nostalgy and presents an ideal image of Soviet farm life.

The Boshoi Ballet in <i>The Bright Stream</i> © Damir Yusupov
The Boshoi Ballet in The Bright Stream
© Damir Yusupov

Intrigues, impersonations and funny complications are what The Bright Stream is all about. The day that a group of artists comes to a collective farm to perform at the harvest festival the lives of the villagers are turned upside down. The dancers attract a lot of attention. Two old dacha dwellers only have eye for the artists and Zina, a former dance student who followed her husband Pyotr to the collective farm, is reunited with an old friend, who is now a ballerina. When she introduces her husband to her, Pyotr begins to court her, and Zina feels jealous. The ballerina assures her that she has no intention to flirt with him and comes up with a plan: she will dress up in her partner’s costume and go and meet the dacha dweller’s wife. Her partner, made up as a female dancer, shall meet with the old dacha dweller. While Zina shall go to meet her husband in the ballerina’s costume.

This cross-dressing is the most fascinating and amusing aspect of the ballet. Vladislav Lantratov gave a wonderful performance as the ballerina. Dressed in a long white tutu and pointe shoes, he floats – or rather stumbles – across the stage like a sylphide, with the choreography often referring to the white act of the famous ballet. Whether it is the clumsy pointe work or the strick finger-wag to reject the dasha dweller, the audience is clearly amused by his every move. And it is not just him who stole the show, all characters are remarkable and memorable. Ratmansky gives meaning to every step in the choreography, skillfully blending classical ballet technique with a great sense of humour. The Bolshoi dancers prove that they are not just incredibly gifted dancers but very good actors as well. Anna Nikulina as Zina is incredibly charming and Ekaterina Shipulina is a beautiful ballerina, but she also stands her ground when she cross-dresses and jumps as her male partner.

The Boshoi Ballet in <i>The Bright Stream</i> © Damir Yusupov
The Boshoi Ballet in The Bright Stream
© Damir Yusupov

The Bright Stream is a ballet like no other, where you’d go to have a laugh. It is unique, has a vibrant history and is not widely performed. Above all the music, stage sets and choreography all come together perfectly and when well performed like this it makes for a true masterpiece.