Bolshoi Ballet – The Limpid Stream

The Limpid Stream

Alexei Ratmansky – Choreography
Boris Messerer – Designer

Zina – Anastasia Yatsenko
Pyotr – Yuri Klevtsov
Ballerina – Ekaterina Shipulina
Classical Dancer – Ruslan Skvortsov
Accordion-player – Gennady Yanin
Old Dacha-dweller – Alexei Loparevich
Old Dacha-dweller’s Wife – Irina Zibrova
Galya – Anastasia Stashkevich
Gavrilych – Egor Simachev
Milkmaid – Xenia Sorokina
Tractor Driver – Alexander Petukhov
Caucasian Highlander – Georgy Geraskin
Kuban Field-worker – Batyr Annadurdyev

Orchestra of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
Pavel Sorokin

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 11 August, 2006
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Whatever else, Shostakovich’s centenary year has provided ample opportunity to hear and, moreover, see his stage-work in performance.

Recently, the Mariinsky Theatre brought an arresting if unevenproduction of The Golden Age to London, and this visit from the Bolshoi Theatre brought an incarnation of the composer’s third and final ballet. Even today, The Limpid Stream (a preferable title to ‘The Bright Stream’ used for the Bolshoi visit) remains littlemore than a footnote in Shostakovich’s output though, ironically, it was appreciably more successful than either of its predecessors – enjoying an eight-month run in Leningrad during 1935 and 1936 before official pressure saw its demise, only weeks after the even more successful opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” had similarly been ‘removed’. Not that The Limpid Stream is any sense the ballet equivalent: indeed, it is the inoffensive nature of virtually all its music that has likely sealed its fate for posterity.

On the face of it, the scenario – by Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov – ought to have met the dictates of Socialist Realism for music embodying the most positive qualities of the Soviet people. In rural Kuban, groups of Moscow performing artists and local collective farm-workers encounter each other, realise their common ideological aims and celebrate them forthwith – with a dose of amorous intrigue and mistaken identity to facilitate the dance sequences in which the score abounds. It was seemingly the scenario’s allegedly bourgeois nature – grafting a story redolent of nineteenth-century French and Russian ballet onto a distinctly Soviet context, coupled with Shostakovich’s failure to employ any folk-music from the region, that enabled the authorities to dismiss the ballet accordingly.

Clearly “The Limpid Stream” does not warrant the radical approach to choreography such as informed Noah D. Gelber’s The Golden Age, and it is to the credit of Alexei Ratmansky that he both resists any temptation to modish staging and avoids making the ballet appear simplistic or commonplace. Indeed, there is little in dance terms that would seem out of place in a traditional presentation of Coppélia or La fille mal gardée: Ratmansky delineating the specific character of each main role with an immediacy that only rarely invokes caricature and never comes close to parody. He is amply supported in this bythe designs of Boris Messerer, evoking the Kaban countryside with colourful and apposite backdrops that would be equally appropriate in the ballets of Glazunov. Costumes are effective in an unspecific, early 20th-century manner, with enough sense of a clash between urban sophistication and rural tradition to motivate the encounters that ensue. In short, a setting as harmless as is the music.

The dancers themselves entered into the spirit of the piece with evident enjoyment. Yuri Klevtsov and Anastasia Yatsenko were well matched as husband-and-wife Pyotr, an impetuous agricultural student, and Zina, presiding light of the Limpid Stream Collective, whose dormant abilities as a dancer are reawakened by encountering her one-time friend the Ballerina, and with whom she trades disguises so as to outwit Pyotr in the ‘love triangle’ central to the scenario. The Ballerina was taken in virtuoso style by Ekaterina Shipulina, and Ruslan Skvortsov was hardly less impressive as her partner, the Classical Dancer – whoseappearance in drag during the rendezvous in Act Two is plain old-fashioned slapstick and brought the house down accordingly.

Alexei Loparevich and Irina Zibrova were as ‘in-part’ as would-be-lecherous Old Dacha-dweller and his would-be-irresistible wife, on whom the comedy otherwise depends, while there were lively cameos from Xenia Sorokina as the Milkmaid and Alexander Petukhov as the Tractor Driver. Anastasia Stashkevich was the not-so-unknowing schoolgirl Galya, and Egor Simachev the wily old farmer Gavrilych, who galvanises the action – and morale! – at key points in the ballet. Gennady Yanin enjoyed himself as the Accordion-player, even if his co-ordination with the orchestra pit was uncertain at best.

Pavel Sorokin conducted with relish a score that can have enjoyed few revivals within Russia, let alone outside it. Those familiar with the Ballet Suites that Shostakovich compiled at the turn of the 1950s will have felt a sense of déja-vous on recognising several of the pieces that originated in the present work. True, many of the ballet’s numbers are anodyne compared to what the composer would have produced five years earlier, but there are few that are less than enjoyable and one, the Adagio in Act Two, that has a warmly Tchaikovskian cello solo could yet make it an ‘easy-listening’ favourite to rival the Romance from The Gadfly.

Coming in at a Nutcracker-length 85 minutes, The Limpid Stream is hardly likely to rival either that or Cinderella in the Christmas stakes, yet as its finale celebrating the harvest festival breezed on its infectious course, it was hard not to feel that the work deserved a kinder fate – especially when performed with the professionalism and panache afforded it by Bolshoi Ballet.

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