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Extra! Extra! The Bolshoi's in Town! (The Bright Stream)

by Suzana Stankovic
August 9, 2005
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

Extra! Extra! The Bolshoi's in Town! (The Bright Stream)

The Metropolitan Opera House
Lincoln Center
New York, NY
Alexei Ratmansky, Ballet Artistic Director
Anatoly Iksanov, General Director
Pavel Sorokin, Conductor

Suzana Stankovic
August 9, 2005

The Bolshoi Ballet came to NYC recently for the first time in eighteen years, quite a dance event in the middle of the summer! There were ads all over the place and articles popping up detailing the company's history and current, somewhat new, artistic momentum. I was intrigued, a company with such deep roots in the past stretching in new directions? Finally, after reading an article in Time Out NY which featured an interview with Alexei Ratmansky, Bolshoi's Artistic Director, (who is rather young and greatly excited about the four ballets in the company's NYC repertoire), I decided it was time I saw for myself what the hoopla was all about. Next thing you know I'm dishing out $100 to see The Bright Stream, a ballet once banned by Stalin and now re-choreographed by Ratmansky, about the happenings on a collective farm the highlight being the arrival of a group of artists and the adventures that ensue.

Now this is going to sound harsh, but I'll get right to it, Act I was a complete disappointment. The choreography was stilted and awkward. It had nothing to say. The plot dragged along through overcrowded and ill-choreographed scenes that simply seemed pointless. I could see Ratmansky's effort to infuse classical movement with new breath but it just didn't work. His attempt to meld the classical with his idea of new was painfully unsuccessful. It came across as fearful, self-conscious choreography. It seemed that Ratmansky just wasn't clear about his vision for the first act of this ballet. The result was ineffective and confusing choreography in which sparks of innovation appeared out of place, only adding to the confusion. Not to mention the effect this had on the dancers. I could clearly spot the moments when their dancing lacked conviction due to purposeless choreography.

What's more, Act I consisted of far too many corps de ballet rampages. I mean a ton of dancers flooding the stage repeating monotonous phrases of choreography. I call these super busy, high-traffic moments fillers because that's exactly what they are, albeit bright and colorful but still fillers nonetheless. The choreography was awful, totally uncreative and repetitive. Many of these "fillers" featured a great deal of strenuous, less than organized jumping. There were times when it looked like a flashy overcrowded aerobics class on stage. Those were the moments when I would close my eyes and enjoy the Bolshoi Orchestra, which put on a superb performance, a very passionate one indeed.

On the bright side it appeared that Ratmansky's goal was to try something new, which is commendable, (especially at a place so dusty with history like the Bolshoi) perhaps because he, like most choreographers at some point or another, felt the need for new colors and tones of movement, but was just too afraid to step firmly forward into that internal frontier of creativity from where all great art emerges. The image that comes to mind is of a man standing on the shore with one foot in the sand and the other in a boat waiting to take him to the exciting land of unlimited artistic possibility and more importantly, individuality. I do hope that he will continue to search for his unique voice as a choreographer and that he will do so earnestly and fearlessly for that is the only worthwhile way to do it.
Overall, what drove the first Act forward, in spite of its many disappoints, were the performances by the two female leads and the orchestra. Maria Alexandrova, a Bolshoi principal, is a beautiful dancer with exceptional technique and stage presence. However, her dancing always looks the same. What I mean is that she colors all her movements with a flamboyant flair regardless of where her character is in the story. Everything she does is flamboyant, flashy, in your face. Her dancing seems to lack nuance, subtlety and emotional range. Although it is wonderful to see a dancer so confident and sure of herself I often found myself wondering whether or not the flashiness was a disguise for a lack of genuine feeling, depth and sensitivity. There were several moments in the ballet where I felt she could have toned down the flashiness and flamboyance, times when I felt it was artistically inappropriate and abrasive, particularly with regard to shifts in the music that made for a more lyrical and tender phrase. I wanted to see her gentle, softer side especially as a reflection of the softness of the music but flashy and flamboyant she remained throughout. My lasting impression is that she is artistically limited and confined to one approach at this point in time in spite of her impeccable technique. She certainly has room to grow internally and I hope she does.

Anastasia Yatsenko, a Bolshoi soloist and another great dancer, was somewhat more sensitive to her relationship with her character, the music and the audience but similar to Maria Alexandrova in the flamboyance category. Is this a Bolshoi thing? I'm sensing it is.

As far as the male leads are concerned, Yuri Klevtsov's and Nikolai Tsiskaridze's performances fell below what I expected for my $100 ticket. Their technique was up to par, which at the very least it should be, but what really irritated me was their utter lack of spirit in Act I. Theirs was a student-like approach to the art of dancing; steps, steps, steps but no feeling, no artistry, no inner life at all. I felt like I was watching two robot dancers who needed to be reminded that ballet is an art, that there is a profound purpose to ballet class and rehearsals, that correct and effortless execution of steps is only the minimum and not nearly enough to make for a great performance. There were times when their lack of involvement in their characters made for downright boring and uneventful dancing. How can this be I wondered. Perhaps they did not receive adequate artistic direction and coaching. After all this is the Bolshoi, shouldn't I be blown away by great dancing? With the exception of a few breathtaking moments here and there thanks to the orchestra and bursts of individual talent on stage, I wasn't, for the length of Act I at least.

At this point you might be surprised to hear that Act II was quite a success! It was like an entirely different ballet. First of all, the set design was beautiful. It conveyed a romantic, dreamy, nighttime mood that seemed to envelope the whole theater and everyone in it. I loved it! Secondly, 90% of the performances in Act II, which were predominantly comedic, were exceptional. I especially enjoyed Nikolai Tsiskaridze's performance, which was perfect this time around! All the ingredients were there for his most amusing female character: excellent acting and in the moment dancing ON POINTE! Dressed as a ballerina he had the house bouncing with laughter. Even though we've seen this rather sexist approach to comedy countless times I have to say his was truly artistic and one of a kind.

In general, I was grateful for the genuine fun and lightheartedness most dancers brought to their performance in Act II and for the absence of the corps de ballet rampages so prevalent in Act I. I was also grateful for the musicality and more flowing quality of the choreography although it was still repetitive at times.

Act II was a success because it touched upon simple universal themes like humor and love and because so much of the obscure coldness of Act I seemed to have long dissolved. Act II was sincere, intimate and warm. Each dancer really believed in their character and for their time on stage seemed to become their character wholeheartedly and completely. When performers do this, when they really lose themselves in their character and in the moment, the audience feels it and gets pulled in to the world unfolding on stage. That's when something that can only be described as transcendent happens, it's when the heart beats faster and the soul alights, it's when a tear streams down the cheek, or a smile softly emerges from a place within. It's when art fulfills its highest function in society, to awaken the spirit in us all. And believe me, it's rare these days.

The Bolshoi Ballet performs "Bright Stream"
Photo courtesy of The Bolshoi Ballet

Suzana Stankovic is a dancer and choreographer living in New York City and the founder of The Stankovic Ballet Company. Please see www.stankovicballet.com for more information.

See previous Bolshoi Ballet articles.

  • Extra! Extra! The Bolshoi's in Town! (The Bright Stream) - 8/9/2005 - by Suzana Stankovic. - Article sponsored by Tutus Divine.

  • The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia: The Pharaoh's Daughter at the Met - 7/28/2005 - by Roberta E. Zlokower. - Article sponsored by Freed of London.

  • The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia: The Bright Stream at the Met - 7/25/2005 - by Robert Abrams. - Article sponsored by Tutus Divine.

  • The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia: Spartacus at the Met - 7/22/2005 - by Roberta E. Zlokower. - Article sponsored by Freed of London.

  • The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia: Don Quixote at the Met - 7/18/2005 - by Roberta E. Zlokower. - Article sponsored by Tutus Divine.

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