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.