The Bright Stream

American Ballet Theatre

by Sandra Prosnitz - June, 2011

I had a fabulous time watching American Ballet Theatre’s production of The Bright Stream, which played to an appreciative, capacity audience.

It is fall on a Soviet collective farm in the 1920s, and a group of famous  dancers arrive to help with the harvest festival.  The locals are very taken with their attractive visitors, and several of them waste no time in trying to make romantic assignations.

One of the faithless is Pyotr, an agricultural student.   He flirts shamelessly with the ballerina, but she is an old friend of Pyotr’s wife, Zina, and assures Zina that she has no interest in her husband.   The company plots to punish the amorous peasants.   Everybody will change roles;  Zina will dress up as the ballerina, the ballerina will don male clothing, and the male ballet dancer will wear a dress.

In the second act they are all in disguise, including a male dancer who puts on a dog costume to protect a schoolgirl.   This gives an opportunity for cross-dancing as well as cross-dressing.   Paloma Herrera, as the ballerina, does a solo in typical male style, complete with high kicks and strong jumps.   David Hallberg as the ballet dancer dances the woman’s solo.   Mr. Hallberg is taller than anyone else in the company and to see him on point, floating around the stage in a romantic tutu, was worth the price of admission all by itself.   It was an entertaining parody, and he clearly relished the opportunity to show his comedic ability.

Dramatically this was one of the best performances I’ve seen at ABT.   All the principals really got into their characters, and because they were having so much fun, the audience had a great time too.

Of course, since this is a comedy, everything gets sorted out and it all ends happily, giving the opportunity for more exuberant dancing. Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography was wonderful throughout.   The brisk pace keeps the audience engaged all the way through.   

The sets and costumes were admirably simple, and showed none of   ABT’s unfortunate tendency to overdress the stage.   I especially liked the main backdrop of a field of grain against the sky, giving the impression of fertile land going on forever.

This ballet was first performed in Russia in 1935.   It was very popular with audiences, but the Soviet authorities felt that it mocked the hardworking peasants and it quickly closed.    Dmitri Shostakovich, the composer, was severely chastised and never wrote another ballet.    This was a huge loss for dance audiences;  the music for The Bright Stream is truly bright.