Dance review: American Ballet Theatre dances 'The Bright Stream' at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Part cartoon, part silent movie, part lyric, folk and heroic ballet, Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Bright Stream” is a dizzying romp. American Ballet Theatre opened a five-performance run of this attractive work Thursday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as part of the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center series.
Still, “Bright Stream” has a dark history. The ballet, given its premiere in 1935, and its creators fell victim to Stalin’s anger. Choreographer Fyodor Lopukhov saw his professional career suddenly stall. His co-librettist, Adrian Piotrovsky, was arrested and sent to one of the gulags, where he died. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich — who had been attacked in Pravda for his opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District” no less than 10 days earlier — felt terrorized and expected immediate arrest. But he and the score survived, although the ballet, like his opera, at once vanished from the stage.
When Ratmansky heard a recording of the music, he fell in love with its colorful, diverse, witty and fast-paced qualities. So he revived the work for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2003. A year later, the company danced it at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. ABT’s performances are the first in Los Angeles.
Ratmansky followed the original scenario but had to devise his own choreography. Perhaps remembering Shostakovich’s early days playing piano accompaniment for silent films, Ratmansky turned to that era’s many moments of madcap fun. Certainly, his characters are shallow, more types than individuals, but he tells the story clearly.
At Thursday's opening, Gillian Murphy brought fine-lined poise and virtuosity to the role of the visiting Ballerina, especially when, disguised as a man in the second act, she executed the male variation that her partner, Cory Stearns, had danced in the first. For his part, Stearns was a strong and elegant partner. Disguised as a Sylph in the second act, Stearns splendidly traversed the skewed Bournonville-derived choreography with a minimum of caricature and a maximum of self-respect.
As Pyotr, the farmer who becomes infatuated with the Ballerina (briefly forgetting his wife, Zina), Marcelo Gomes exhibited rugged, salt-of-the-earth masculinity. Paloma Herrera, the neglected wife, danced with lyric elegance and suppleness, particularly in the second act pas de deux in which Pyotr doesn’t realize he’s dancing with his disguised wife.
Cast as the elderly, feebly lecherous couple (the Old Dacha Dweller and his anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is wife), ABT veterans Victor Barbee and Martine Van Hamel enacted the crude caricatures with professional commitment and aplomb. Still, Ratmansky’s jokes went on too long.
On the other hand, many moments were inspired, especially the chugging, constructivist human-tractor ensemble, with muscular Jared Matthews as its driver. Other notable dancers included Craig Salstein as the vigorous Accordion Player, Roman Zhurbin as a Stalin look-alike Inspector of Quality, Maria Riccetto as the shy schoolgirl Galya and Misty Copeland as a sly Milkmaid. The corps danced with energy and precision. Ormsby Wilkins conducted.
Four different casts of principal dancers are scheduled during the run, which ends Sunday afternoon. Enjoy the laughs.
— Chris Pasles
American Ballet Theatre, “The Bright Stream,” Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, downtown Los Angeles. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $30 to $120. (213) 972-0711 or www.musiccenter.org
Photo: Gillian Murphy, above, in "The Bright Stream" Thursday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Cory Stearns' Ballet Dancer, below, engages in a bit of cross-dressing in the comic ballet. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times