Fri | Aug 18, 2017

The Bright Stream at Palace Cineplex on Sunday

Published:Friday | November 18, 2016 | 11:00 AM
A scene from the Bolshoi’s production of ‘The Bright Stream’.

Billed as a comedic ballet, Dmitri Shostakovich's The Bright Stream is a phenomenon among the genre. The playful plot centres around a troupe of ballet dancers sent to provide sophisticated entertainment to a new Soviet collective farm. After some intricate and amorous manoeuvrings, it turns out that the honest country bumpkins have more to teach the city folk than the other way around.

Ironically, while Shostakovich believed his groundbreaking creation would delight the supreme leader, Joseph Stalin, the reaction was quite the opposite. It resulted in a member of the creative team being sent to the Gulag, a forced labour camp system set up during the Stalin era.

The Bright Stream will be shown at the Palace Cineplex on Sunday, starting at 11:30 a.m.

Shostakovich wrote a trio of full-length ballet scores between 1929 and 1935; The Golden Age (shown recently at Palace Cineplex), The Bolt and The Bright Stream (also known as The Limpid Stream). All three works fell short of the approval of the Soviet authorities and were banned soon after their respective premieres. As a result, the composer suffered devastatingly. Shostakovich's reputation and self-esteem plummeted, leaving him disenchanted and unwilling to ever compose for the stage again.

History has absolved Shostakovich, who, though stymied by the politics and his difficult relationship with the government, is arguably one of the most innovative composers of our time.

SEVERE PUNISHMENTS

Of the three ballets, the most severe punishment was meted out to The Bright Stream. Adrian Piotrovsky, the co-librettist, disappeared into oblivion after being sent to a Gulag, while the creative career of its choreographer, Fedor Lopukhov, was virtually terminated. Shostakovich's music was all but banned during the Soviet era, except for a greatly edited suite of his most popular tunes.

Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, noted for restaging traditionally classical ballets for large companies, successfully restaged The Bright Stream while he was a director of the Bolshoi in 2003. He first came across the full score in a recording made by Rozhdestvensky in Stockholm in 1995. Having heard the music, he was bent on getting it back on to the Russian stage.

"It sounded incredible. I couldn't believe that no one had returned to it before. The music is just so danceable, with this wonderful variety of adagios, waltzes and polkas. It's like Minkus, but all on the level of Shostakovich's genius," he said.

At the time, Ratmansky's only knowledge of Fyodor Lopukhov was what he had read. But as he delved deeper into the history of The Bright Stream, Ratmansky quickly became aware that the abandoned work was more than a fine piece of dance music. It was an outstanding ballet, choreographed by one of the most sophisticated and subversive talents of the Soviet period.

Born in 1886, Lopukhov was among the last generation to be raised in the Tsar's Imperial Ballet and among the first generation to test its wings in the 20th century. As Russian culture began to solidify under Stalin's rule, however, life became difficult for creative and resourceful artists like Lopukhov. Ballet as an art form was still officially sanctioned, as Stalin often attended performances of Swan Lake, but choreography of new works became risky.

VAUDEVILLE

Logically, The Bright Stream should have been a great success with Stalin's regime Its premise was politically correct, set on a collective farm, but Lopukhov had also incorporated a clever comic libretto of romantic flirtations and theatrical encounters that allowed his choreography to range from virtuoso classical variations to moments of buffooning vaudeville. This included a dog riding a bicycle (the first bicycle in Russian ballet, thinks Ratmansky) and a man dressed up in Sylphide costume.

The problems arose when The Bright Stream went to Moscow and became subject to the scrutiny of the allies the Kremlin. Lopukhov had anticipated that a few discreet changes would be necessary, including leaving out the man in the Sylphide frock, which he suspected could be taking a cross-dressing joke too far. But evidently, the ballet had been targeted for censorship even before its arrival.

Tickets are on sale at the box office and via the web at www.palaceamusement.com with a Palace Card or any major credit card.