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The Limpid Stream

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The Limpid Stream

Perhaps, somebody (Ina, Inga) will tell us about the yesterday premiere of the “Stream” at the Bolshoi. Thus, I decided to present here some information about this ballet which is probably not known in the West.

The title (“Svetlyi ruchei” in Russian) can be translated in different ways. The official site of the Bolshoi suggests now the translation “The Bright Stream”, it can be also “The Clear Brook”. I accepted the title used in Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s record of Shostakovitch’s music (Stockholm Royal Philharmonic orchestra, Chandos Records Ltd., CHAN 9343/4, 1995).

As a source I use the original booklet published in Leningrad in 1935. It contains the original libretto, the ballet program, the introductory article by the authors, Fyodor Lopukhov and Andrian Piotrovsky, the article by Dmitri Shostakovitch “My third ballet” and other materials.

The Story

“The Limpid Stream” is the name of a collective farm somewhere in Southern Russia, in foothills of the Caucasus mountains. Our heroes work there – a specialist in agriculture Pyotr and his wife Zina, who keeps a position of an organizer of entertainments. At the opening night these roles were interpreted by Yuri Klevcov and Inna Petrova, the second cast which will dance on Sunday includes Anastasiya Yatsenko and Vladimir Neporozhny.

A small team from the capital comes to that village to give a concert – no names are given to these personages , just Ballerina (Maria Aleksandrova at the opening night and Elena Andrienko in the 2nd cast), The Classical Male dancer (Sergei Filin and Jan Godovsky) and the Accordion Player. The Ballerina occurred to be Zina’s schoolmate. Somehow Zina keeps in secret (even from her husband) that she graduated a ballet school. Meeting the Ballerina is a challenge to her, she puts on her ballet shoes and they dance together - as a kind of a competition to prove that Zina indeed forgot nothing from the ballet pas.

Then her husband Pyotr falls in love with the Ballerina and invites her for a rendezvous in a forest at night. But the Ballerina tells everything to Zina and they exchange their dresses to give a good lesson to the unfaithful husband. Pyotr and Zina meet and dance the whole pdd together. Nevertheless, Pyotr being more and more inspired by the beautiful girl and the brilliant dancer does not recognize that he is dealing all the time with his own wife.

There is a third couple – elderly people from a town who spend the summer in a country (I will call them the Husband and The Wife). The Husband also is enamour with the Ballerina and would like to meet her privately. The same idea comes to his Wife who is dreaming about young and handsome Classical Dancer. The Dancers decide to give lessons to them too and they are exchanging dresses as well. So the Ballerina comes to meet the Wife and dances as a male partner with her performing the pas usual for male dancers. The Classical Male dancer goes to meet the Husband, they dance also and I was told that Filin was splendid on points and in a costume of a Sylph. Two more duets for the ballet and some ridiculous adventures which happen to them during these meetings.

One more rendezvous is fixed on the same night: the Accordion Player (Gennady Yanin in the first cast, Ruslan Pronin in the second one) tries to seduce a teenager villager (a character dance on the interpolated music from “The Bolt”). But she is protected during their meeting by some farmer disguised as a dog (there was a scene when “the dog” used a bike).

All this night full of mystifications and jokes is over, the next day the actors start their concert. Suddenly Pyotr sees two Ballerinas at the stage. Both are in masks and both dance quite well. Finally Pyotr realizes his mistake and being ashamed returns his heart to his wonderful wife who can dance as well. Two couples and two more male dancers join in a pas de six which had a fantastic choreography as is described in literature. All other mystifications are also explained and everybody joyfully dance in apotheoses.

The History

The Ballet was staged by Lopukhov for the Malyi Opera and Ballet Theater (MALEGOT) in Leningrad, the premiere was on April 4, 1935. The main idea was to create a comedy on the basis of the modern (Soviet) life. This was quite usual in movies of that time (as well as in Hollywood). The authors explained that they were trying to continue the line opened by “La Fille Mal Gardee”). Critics estimated the choreography very high as well as the music by Shostakovitch. The plot was found too light-minded and not well constructed logically. Some critical remarks were given about the interpolations in the music: Shostakovitch inserted fragments from his preceding ballet “The Bolt” (in the meaning “screw”) written for another personages in different circumstances. It was true in a sense, this music being very impressive by itself did not fit the situation. “The Bolt” was removed from the repertory after the first performance and probably Shostakovitch tried to save the best part of it. After the success in Leningrad Lopukhov received the position of the chief choreographer at Bolshoi, two leading dancers were moved to Bolshoi and the revised version of “The Limpid Stream” was staged there (the premiere was on November 30, 1935. The roles of the Ballerina and the Classical Male Dancer have been performed by S.Messerer and A.Ermolaev. The plot was changed a bit. In particular, the scene with the seducing of a teenager and the protecting her “dog” was removed. Pyotr became not a husband of Zina but just a young guy who “feels a sympathy to her”. The scenes of night rendezvous with Classical Dancers were also shortened.

Again the ballet received a good press and the audience was enthusiastic about it. The music was called “the best component of the ballet”, and Lopukhov was recognized as the best Soviet balletmaster. Soon the situation changed dramatically. Suddenly, two articles were published in the main newspaper “Pravda” – “Confusion instead of music” about Shostakovitch’s opera “Katerina Izmailova” (January 28, 1936) and “The Ballet Falsity” (February 6, 1936). The legend tells that Stalin was at the performances and did not like them (at least such statement was made in memoirs by Igor Moiseev). “Pravda” criticized the ballet for “formalism” and for presenting “puppets” instead of realistic images of soviet people. “The Limpid Stream” was immediately removed from the repertory, Lopukhov was fired from Bolshoi, Shostakovitch never wrote a ballet music anymore, and Piotrovsky, the author of the scenario, disappeared in GULAG.

Ratmansky was going not to restore the ballet with the lost choreography. He was going to stage a completely new ballet accepting the first version of the scenario and the full score with all interpolations made by Shostakovitch. The result was presented yesterday at the Bolshoi, but I can tell nothing as I am not in Moscow now. I heard also that the final pas de six is not staged by Ratmansky.

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The ballet is not quite as unknown as all that, Marc. The music often referred to as "Shostakovich Ballet Suites ##1,2, & 3" is taken from this ballet and sweetened a bit (OK, a lot) for orchestral performances in a time of criticism against formalism. Oddly, although that music is much more formal than the score of the original ballet, it was much admired, more than the ballet.

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That's true, Mel: the music was known as suites and was performed often by radio, for instance. Thank you for this remark. The full score was recorded only by Rozhdestvensky, as far as I know. But the ballet itself was forgotten. By the way, for many years Grigorovitch also had plans to stage a new version of second Shostakovitch's ballet - "The Bolt", but with a different story. I even heard about a preview of the 1st act which occurred to be quite similar in choreography to "The Golden Age".

People report from Moscow about the great success of "The Limpid Stream". The first critical article appeared the next morning in "Vremya MN" and it was completely positive. Other publications will appear now on Monday.

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Mikhail -

Is it possible to talk a little more about Lopukhov, Shostakovich and the politics of the time? I read a translation of Vera Krasovkaya's biography of Aggripina Vaganova in manuscript and the failure of "The Bright Stream" was mentioned very elliptically and in such a way that one sensed it was an enormous event that was mentioned almost in a whisper.

Can you (or anyone) give us a window on how things worked?

Parenthetically, what was mentioned at length was Lopukhov's work "The Ice Maiden". Is that utterly lost?

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I guess you’re right, Mel. Yet, I only wish I could say I knew all those ballets of which there are only fragments (or even the complete score) on a CD ;).

It’s interesting to read how in Natalia Roslavleva’s “Era of Russian ballet” (published in translation in 1966) "The Limpid Stream" is written off as a misguided experiment to introduce a contemporary theme into ballet. Roslavleva mentions at length how Agrippina Vaganova analysed Lopukhov’s ballet in her article “No Ballet Falsitudes”, mentioned by Mikhail. According to Vaganova the scenario of the ballet was hopeless, yet for her its main vice was Lopukhov’s failure to use classical dancing in a suitable form. She considered the classical dancing in "The Limpid Stream" indifferent to action, subject and period (and thus totally alien to her own dogma that classical dancing “should originate from and be expressive of human emotion and social behaviour”). The divertissements in "The Limpid Stream" could be shown in any ballet. Vaganova moreover thought Lopukhov had failed to create national dances appropriate to the people shown. Finally she considered that there was no connection whatsoever between musical dramaturgy and plot in his ballet.

That the ballet at first had considerable public and critical success, as Mikhail mentioned, is of course completely ignored by Roslavleva.

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Leigh, "Ice Maiden" is not completely lost as far as I know. In the 1960s for his company in Novosibirsk Dolgushin staged his own version using fragments from Lopukhov’s ballet. Incidentally, there is a duet from "Ice Maiden" on the video “The Glory of the Kirov”, with Osipenko and Markovsky dating from 1974.

Somehow I have the feeling that the "Ice Maiden" is usually mentioned and sometimes considered Lopukhov’s most outstanding ballet simply because it was less controversial (or more politically correct) than the others – but then again this is just based on accounts and I haven’t seen any of these ballets full-length. A work like "Dance Symphony", created in 1923, representing Lopukhov’s ideas about dance and choreography which he already conceived during World War I, might well be of greater importance. Lopukhov himself was probably one of the first showing a way of how to approach ballet in the 20th century, as he pleaded for a preservation of the classical legacy (as director of the Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre he revived "The Sleeping Beauty" in 1922, restoring parts of Petipa’s choreography which had been dropped in previous years), next to trying out new ways of expression, experimenting with new forms, etc.

"Dance Symphony" was a plea for plotless ballet and choreography strictly conceived as the visual expression of music. There was only one performance of "Dance Symphony", apparently greeted with a mixture of applause and hissing. Lopukhov’s ideas may not have been understood, or perhaps he was unable to visualize them convincingly, but in any case not all was lost. Interestingly, among the dancers performing "Dance Symphony" were Leonid Lavrovsky, Piotr Gusev, Danilova, Ivanova and one Balanchivadze.

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Fyodor Lopukhov. The best book about him is written by G.N.Dobrovolskaya: “Fyodor Lopukhov”, Leningrad, Iskusstvo, 1976. She writes about all his ballets, the choreography of “The Limpid Stream” is described at pp. 258-264. She is mentioned as Dobrovolskaia Galina Nikolaevna in the catalogue of the New York Public Library but I did not find there her book about Lopukhov. I do not think it was translated but it is strange that NYPL has no Russian copy.

Instead I discovered three videotapes in the catalogue (Call # *MGZIC 9-2654), presented to the Library by the Choreographic Institute of the Leningrad State Conservatory. This is a performance of November 17, 1986 in honor of the 100th anniversary of Lopukhov’s birth. Producer/director: Nikita Dolgushin. The first tape contains two excerpts of interest for this thread: “The magnificence of the universe: Thermal energy” (1923). Music: Ludwig van Beethoven (Symphony no. 4). Danced by Tatiana Ermolaeva, Larisa Boytsova (?), and male ensemble. -- The ice maiden: Adagio and variation (1927). Music: Edvard Grieg, arr. by Boris Asafiev. Danced by Valia Ganibalova and Igor Morozov.

I have nothing to add to Marc’ remark about “The Ice Maiden” (thank you, Marc). I agree that the “Dance Symphony” or “The Grandeur of the Universe” was probably the most interesting of Lopukhov’s experiments with the ballets. Too many of acrobatics as critics said at that time but later Grigorovitch used some of the invented lifts in “The Legend of Love”, for instance. Natalia Voskresenskaya reconstructed “The Grandeur of the Universe” in 2000 for the Japanese company Nippon Ballet Academy. Voskresenskaya worked with Lopukhov’s home archive and nobody knows how many surprises are still waiting us there. Perhaps, nothing is lost. This fall Voskresenskaya and NBA gave one performance in Moscow – we watched her reconstruction of one act of “The Hunchback Little Horse” by C.Pugni. It was nice. Unfortunately the Dance Symphony was not shown in Moscow for some reasons which were not connected with the art. But people who had a chance to watch a videotape told me that it seemed to be completely in the style. I heard also that this work was awarded in Japan as the best ballet performance of the year. Probably with the help of the BallertAlert members we can find some traces of that record. As I understood from literature, the great mistake by Lopukhov was to provide the Dance Symphony with a synopsis. If it were just an abstract ballet (what was actually the case) there would be no problems, but the synopsis described some achievements of the mankind and contained some mystics so it became a target for ideological attacks. Such a pity.


I really don’t know what to add about Shostakovitch’s and Lopukhov’s relations with the regime. It would be a long story with a lot of quotations, examples from different branches and too many conjectures with a lack of facts. The music was, probably, too ironic and venomous for that time when everything was clear and straightforward: this is good, this is bad, this guy is a friend, this one is an enemy. Say, in one fragment from “The Bolt” I hear the paraphrase of the popular song (almost an official anthem of the Soviet Air Force) in a combination with sounds of a different style which did not fit the cheerful march. In particular all Shostakovitch’s ballets (starting from “The Golden Age”) were criticized because more interesting music has been given to negative personages. Probably, our chiefs suspected that Shostakovitch showed them a fig in his pocket. May be they were even right:).

Lopukhov himself described the story with “The Limpid Stream” in a few paragraphs of his memoirs “Sixty years in ballet” (Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1966, pp. 272-274). The last paragraph of this part reads as follows:

“I can hardly explain in full everything what came to pass. Although now I see very distinctly my mistakes and weak points in this ballet. I think other people will extract more wide and objective conclusions from the lesson given by “The Limpid Stream”. I don’t want neither to make excuses nor to refer to objective conditions”.

Evidently Lopukhov could not convince his “sons” (in a spiritual sense) and only his “grandsons” started to share and exploit some of his ideas - he told something like that but I cannot recall the exact quotation. Asaf Messerer who danced in “The Limpid Stream” at the Bolshoi, also mentioned the ballet in his book “Dance. Reflection. Time” (Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1979, pp. 128-130). He wrote that he could not understand the role of the Classical Dancer, the character of this guy, what to play, what to present at the stage. And Lopukhov answered him: “Don’t complicate matters, just dance yourself”. Messerer was not satisfied and concluded that Lopukhov was much stronger in a theory than in practice.

Of course, the idea of the abstract dance appeared too early but why the leaders of the country did not allow in “The Limpid Stream” what was allowed in many popular movies? May be, there is no enigma at all. Very often it happened so that jealous colleagues who were trusted at high places used their connections to remove a concurrent or something like that. Using ideological arguments and accusations, naturally. May be, everything happened occasionally. Two weeks before these articles in “Pravda” a special Department was organized to govern all kinds of the art and the bureaucracy just was eager to find an appropriate target to start with. May be indeed Stalin did not like the ballet, which by default led to the idea that Soviet people did not need it at all:(.

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On April 18 Bolshoi Ballet showed world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s Bright Stream (the name is in the program book, not Limpid Stream!), and it was big success. The main impression from the ballet – it’s very funny and looked like no other, the ballet have it’s own “personality”. During the second act the audience laughed almost interminable!

The Ratmansky’s choreography looked very simple, with many movements from classical vocabulary, or ballroom dancing, or acrobatics. But the simplicity is deceptive - alltogether it speak volumes. There is also many funny episodes that showed Ratmansky’s rich fantasy and keen sense of humor.

The main parts was danced by Inna Petrova (Zina, Petr’s wife), Yuri Klevtsov (Petr, the agricultural student), Maria Alexandrova (The ballerina), Sergei Filin (The Ballet Dancer), Gennady Yanin (The Accordion Player). I was not particularly moved by Petrova and Klevtsov but the last three stars looked fantastic!

Masha Alexandrova as The Ballerina, just stunning by her stage presence and technique, was strong prima-ballerina in the first act. In the second act the Ballerina disguised herself into male costume of the Classical Dancer and go to a date with an ageing female dasha-dweller who courted The Dancer – dressed like man, Masha looked like saucy little devil! She have big success, critics called it her best part, but I think she must be more varied in her emotions because both her personages (male and female) looked a bit flat in spite of her rare charisma.

Sergei Filin as The Ballet Dancer showed star presence as well but he also was convincing as actor. In the first act he was just the image of Regular Guy of 30ies – modest, manly, simple, he danced in the Soviet style of the time. In the second act The Dancer put on a costume of Sylphide and go to a date with an old male dasha-dweller who courted The Ballerina, and pretend to be her. It was impossible not to laugh when he played Sylphide, or young woman in love, or forget that he must be a woman and behaved like man!

Gennady Yanin was The Accordion Player who courted village schoolgirl Galya. He was real seducer in brave officer style.

I think my review looks ragged but it all was very complicated to describe especially in foreign language. Main thing – the ballet was enthusiastically received by the audience and by the critics so it was a triumph for choreographer Alexei Ratmansky and good aquisition for the Company.

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Thank you for reviewing "Bright/Limpid Stream", Inga :( Let's hope this version of the ballet has a brighter future than the original. Are there many more performances scheduled this season?

Thanks, Mikhail for the explanations - as always of great interest! As for Lopukhov's "Dance Symphony" some observers also thought the music he used (Beethoven's 4th Symphony) wasn't suited for the ideas he wanted to visualize.

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Marc, the Bright Stream scheduled for 5 times in April and 2 times in June.

I saw two more performances of the ballet with different casts, and I am happy to say that there was several very good performances from different dancers. Anastasia Yatsenko (Zina) was moving and graceful. Elena Andrienko (The Ballerina) whom I never like in classical parts, was charming and convincing as actress. Yan Godovsky (The Ballet Dancer) was a little miracle – he admirable showed different moods of his personage, with all his changes from ballet star to simple man dancing, from Sylphide to a girl and to a man. Young Daria Gurevich and Irina Yatsenko (first year with the Company, Anastasia Yatsenko’s sister) was both very good as the schoolgirl Galya. Denis Savin (also first year with the Bolshoi) was wonderful gipsy-like The Accordion Player. Andrei Bolotin was impressive as The Tractor Driver. I also like Lubov Filipova as The female dasha-dweller.

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Guest Tatiana

As far as I know, "Bright/Limpid Stream" will be shown in Opera de Paris this winter instead of "La Dame des Piques" by Rolan Petit (as Nikolai Tsiskaridze, the only dancer to perform German, is seriously injured and misses at least several months of the season). Obviously, there will be the 1st cast (Maria Alexandrova - Ballerina, Sergey Filin - Classical Dancer, Pyetr - Jury Klevtsov, Zina - Inna Petrova (by the way, Inna Petrova is married to Sergey Filin)).

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(copied over from today's Links):

Alexander Meinertz reviews Ratmansky's The Bright Stream for DanceView Times:

Bringing Back the Banned

The Bolshoi marvel, Maria Alexandrova, who plays the role of the Ballerina, shoots across the stage in an unforgettable series of great jumps and, disguised as a man in Act II, she has no problems tackling the virtuoso male variation—every single step—that Ian Godovsky, the Classical Danseur, first performs in Act I. Godovsky is both coy and exquisitely mannered disguised as a Sylph. Yuri Klevtsov is shy and ardent as the young farmer, who for a moment forgets his wife, a tender Inna Petrova, while Gennady Yanin is hilariously brash in the role of the accordion player.

Ratmansky clearly has directed the dancers with great detail. He demonstrates great craftsmanship in his choreography and, cleverly, seems to have taken all Vaganova's objections to Lopukhov's version to heart and to have learned from them as words of warning. His palette ranges from the conventional pastiches of Romantic ballets to athletic Soviet-style pas deux, from elements of slapstick and acrobatics to all kinds of energetic marches, entrées and character dances.

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At the ceremony in Bolshoi The Golden Masks of this year are just delivered to:

Maria Alexandrova (the best female role), Serguei Filin (the best male role) and Gennady Yanin (special prize of the jury) - for the roles in The Bright Stream.

Alexei Ratmansky received the Mask for The Stream as the best choreographer.

The Mask for the best classical performance - Ballet Imperial (Perm).

The best contemporary performance - Le Sacre du Printemps by Regis Obadia (spelling?) in the company “Ballet Moskva”.

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