Georgie knew the music from recordings, but had never seen the ballet because it was suppressed by the Soviet state after its 1935 opening, and was never performed again until revived by the Bolshoi in 2003. (Shostakovich had generally bad luck with the reception of his major works, and struck out with his ballets. His first,the 1930 "Golden Age," was censored. The second, "The Bolt", 1931, closed after one performance. "The Bright Stream" was surpressed solely for being a comedic ballet, when State policy favored serious drama in all things.)
"The Bright Stream" is the name of a collective farm, or kokholz, in the Caucasus. Zina (Svetlana Lunkina), a former ballet student, lives there with her husband Piotr (Mikhail Lobukhin), an agriculture student. As the ballet opens, they and other members of the collective have come to the train station to welcome members of a ballet company who have been detailed to provide entertainment for Bright Stream's harvest festival. Zina is at first delighted to find that the prima ballerina of the corps (Maria Alexandrova)is her old schoolmate. Together, they dance a piece that they both know, and Zina demonstrates that she still has much of her ability. However, Zina is not delighted when Piotr, smitten with the glamorous ballerina, flirts with her.
Others from the countryside around are invited to the festival, including the comic foils, characters known in the program as "the old Dacha Dweller" (a kulak, or "rich peasant")(Alexei Loparevich)and his wife, "Anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is Dacha Dweller" (Anastasia Vinokur). The old man also makes a strong, if oafish, play for the beautiful dancer, while his wife comes on to the dancer's handsome male partner (Ruslan Skvortsov).
The young women of the kokoltz join forces with the ballet corps in deciding to make fools of both the lustful couple and of Piotr. It is decided that Skvortsov, disguised as a woman, will keep an assignation with the old man; that Alexandrova, disguised as a man, will rendesvous with the old woman; and that Zina, disguised as Alexandrova, will keep a meeting with Piotr, her husband.
These incidents take up the second scene of the first act, and showcase some wonderfully funny dancing and acting. Skvortsov, 'en travestie' makes an unlikely woman, showing, as he does, a thick thatch of chest hair above his low-necked gown. However, the old peasant has lost his glasses stumbling around in the dark and is fooled, and attempts a feeble and clumsy courting dance with the disguised dancer. Things are little better with Alexandrova; the old woman pursues her doggedly. Unlike opera, there are few "breeches" roles in ballet, and it is rare to see a woman dance a man's role. Alexandrova, who had demonstrated ample strength and power in the first scene, does so admirably. At last, pursuing their respective objects of desire, the old man and old woman come across one another, realize the other is up to no good, and an argument ensues that ends with the woman chasing the man off, armed with his antique shotgun.
Zina, dressed in the ballerina's performance costume, which includes a domino mask, meets Piotr and dances a flirtatious dance with him, although the audience can detect her barely restrained anger.
The second act is the festival day. When the ballerina is scheduled to dancer her solo, both she and Zina come out, identically garbed, and dance the piece together. When Zina unmasks, Piotr realizes he has been had, and humbly apologizes to her. They are reconciled, and the ballet ends happily.
The plot action is interspersed with folk-inspired dances by the farmers and townsfolk, set to Shostakovich's lively and happy music.
This was a delightful performance of a ballet we're probably not going to see anywhere else, at least for a while, and we enjoyed it very much.
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