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ABT at Kennedy Center, January 2011

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.... The simple white tops and headscarves on the women villagers, for example - uniform and lovely.

That's one way to describe it. To me, it's "cheap." Even in the film, it's obvious how much lovelier and 'luxe' were the Boris Messerer designs. No need to see it live.

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The highlight of Hallberg's role was of course his character's impersonation of the ballerina. He wears a wreath adorned with orange flowers in his hair, but has no female makeup. He wears a dress that has the bustier area presumably slightly stuffed. Pointe shoes. A Giselle Wili like white dress. Even though Hallberg looks tall on stage, in his regular roles he doesn't come across as having a large frame commensurate with his height; his body ordinarily comes across as slim and well-proportioned for a danseur. But when Hallberg dons his ballerina costume, part of the comedy is how manly he looks -- you notice his broad shoulders, his strong legs (I think his large frame was mentioned in the Washington Post review (?)). I found Hallberg's facial expressions to be a quite exaggerated. That might be because I was sitting quite close to the stage, and Hallberg's expressions needed to be that way for all audience members to be able to view them.

I thought that Hallberg's portrayal during the "Sylphide" portion of the ballet wasn't what I would have expected from him. Given the normally lyrical and elegant nature of his dancing, I would have hoped to have seen those "normal for Hallberg" qualities expressed in some portions of his impersonation of the ballerina, e.g., when he is dancing en pointe. I don't think that Hallberg needed to emphasize the akwardness of the ballet dancer (male) mimicking a female dancer throughout or highlight his large body and its physicality durig all phases of such mimicking. In some ways, I was looking forward to Hallberg playing this role because I have found Hallberg's "normal" dancing to be so gorgeous, and his hand and feet so expressive, that sometimes he seems more elegant and "gorgeous" than the ballerina whom he is pairing. Hallberg could have made use of those qualities, so intrinsic to his own dancing, to try for a more nuanced, and less "slapstick", version of his ballet dancer (male) mimicking the ballerina.

I appreciate that Hallberg has to adhere to Ratmansky's instructions with respect to choreography. However, I suspect that there was a little bit of room for interpretation and I was slightly disappointed that Hallberg/Ratmansky adopted a more "taking a large male dancer and making him look silly and obviously out of place" approach, instead of an approach saying "we have a danseur whose dancing is so pleasing that in some respects it already had the beauty of female ballet dancing and let's see how we can exploit those intrinsic qualities".

Despite the above, I wouldn't have wanted to see anybody but Hallberg in the role he had. And I thought Hallberg was fabulous. Just not fabulous in the way I would have hoped.

My own thoughts on the costumes -- I thought the costumes were appropriate for the characters included in this ballet. A lot of the corps were dressed as villagers in the former Soviet Union. That does not cry out for elaborately ornate costumes. The costumes that were selected had enough color -- just not bright vibrant colors in general, except for the Milkmaid's bright red dress and one of the dresses worn by the female dacha dweller. For example, there was nothing wrong with Lane's crisp white hat, matching the white parts of her dress against a medium brown (but a nice full brown) material for her dress. She looked crisp. Some of the female villagers had white tank top type tops on, with full skirts in browns and similar hues. What is wrong with that ensemble for a Soviet villager? The ensemble looked slightly modern, and was appropriate for the characters shown.

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One of the conceptual themes in The Bright Stream is duality, particularly the duality that is formed when one compares reality with a given character's perception of reality. So, initially Zina's husband is drawn to "the ballerina" (ie Murphy in the first cast), but does not know that Zina used to be a ballinera. Each dacha dweller is fooled by the impersonation of the person that he or she thinks he or she, respectively, is interested in. The ballerina and the ballet dancer imitate one another, in costume as well as with respect to certain dance steps. There is, as previously noted, the duality of Zina and the ballerina dancing together the same moves when they have masks on.

There is Zina's peasant community, contrasted with the more glamorous traveling dancers who arrive in town. The visitors only superficially seem more glamorous, including initially to Zina's husband, when in reality the peasant community is very vibrant with characters, relationships among them, activity and desires (whether fulfilled or not). Zina's past as a ballerina is more sophisticated than anybody else in her community, including her husband, knew. The duality of men and women. How one doesn't always focus on what one has, and aspires towards another based on how one perceives that other person.

This theme of duality adds a nice touch to what is largely a comedic ballet.

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I attended three performances of The Bright Stream - Friday evening, Saturday evening and Sunday matinee. All were enjoyable, and, to me, the first one was most electrifying. The first day casting boldly remitted more dazzling and mature virtuoso rays, while the alternate casting looked younger and more modest. Kings and queens in oil painting vs. princes and princesses in watercolour – but, I wish to add that such lightness the alternate casting bears was something working well with this comic work.

The Kennedy Center: It was marvellous. When I first saw this milk white-lit building Friday evening, I almost cried. Walking up to this dreamy venue and seeing a Giselle by Kirov would be a special event. My small wish is that they pay same attention to the lighting inside – during the Sunday matinee, the light was too dim, almost dark.

Zina: As many said, Herrera was in her finest form. Last spring season, I liked her in B-H variation, but she wasn’t so impressive in Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. She seemed not to be able to break the heart of the audience because her heart doesn’t, but, Zina was something she can do well, and she did it really well. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Zina and the Ballerina dance the same step in turn or simultaneously, where I could see how steel-strong Murphy and petal-soft Herrera could render it differently and equally beautifully. I loved Herrera’s Zina more, but, Reyes was also nice, speedy in turns, and more clearly conveyed her feelings, making her tension with her husband more vivid.

Pyotr, Zina’s husband: This role seemed not easy, not because of its difficulty of dancing, but because of its unfaithful character – how can a dancer make it look still attractive or at least acceptable. Also, it may look a little dull and plain, so can be buried among other exciting scenes where a male dancer wears a tutu, and a dog rides a bicycle. Gomes did it fairly well, filled it with rich elaborate mimes as well as fine dancing, so laid a solid foundation for the whole story, quite like a farmer, Zina’s husband, would actually do. His acting was better on Saturday when he no more showed a little hint of Espada-like look, and presented the rustic simplicity with masterly naturalness. Cornejo jumped higher and faster, landed softly, but, failed to create in detail who Zina’s husband is.

Ballerina: Murphy was brilliant. I often felt, in classical roles, she danced under the expressionless mask, but in this Hollywood-celebrity like, slightly arrogant and flirty character, she seemed to throw away all reservations and commanded the stage –her first act solo (of the second day) had the thrilling charisma which would be found in a great pop performance at a full-packed mega stadium. I can’t say Isabella Boylston was bad. She was fine. She looked like a soloist (while she is in the rank of corps de ballet), but Murphy is a principal, and I felt there was such difference between two.

Ballet Dancer: Hallberg’s line seemed to achieve its own aesthetic value, and in his sword like shape, he executed his first act solo with precision and fire. Simkin did it differently – he danced with his unique jazziness, pleasantly and relaxingly. As Hallberg’s solo of the first day was so impressive, I was surprised to see that piece can be executed with a different style. Simkin looked like musical notes from an idyll.

In the second act “Sylphide” scene, Hallberg, on Friday, delicately depicted a ballerina’s typical look and held his neck and arms just like Giselle does in the second act of Giselle. He looked he could dance Myrtha quite well. On Saturday, he seemed to decide to add more comic flavour to his “Sylphide”, went wilder in expressions/gestures, exposed his legs more when sitting on the bench. That was also fine, but, I think he didn’t have to and liked the first approach more, since his manliness already strikingly struck the audience during the first act that just seeing him wearing a romantic tutu with a calm ballerina look was funny enough.

It was Simkin who needed more exaggerated humorous facial expressions and gestures (and he did) because a romantic tutu was too perfectly fit for him to make him look funny – I even could find Alina Cojocaru (her sweetness and girlishness) in him. He was more of a Giselle, or a Snow White.

Accordion Player: Sasha Radetsky was sensational on the first night. At some point, he was explosive, at the other, he was heartbreakingly soft, and he linked each note so lithely, not letting a small rest or any staccato, just like a lyric Baritone, or an accordion itself which swells and sinks smoothly. So, Sarah Lane was a perfect match for him, his dancing, with her xylophone-like crystal clarity. Her long legs executing fast footwork was simply dazzling, radiant and sensuous. Radetsky also didn’t fail to ooze cute, bluff and bohemian nuance an accordion boy may have.

Craig Salstein will be another guy in the ABT who can do Accordion Player well, but, I didn’t like much many staccatos he put into his dancing – IMO, staccatos were already enough in his partner, Maria Riccetto’s dancing. And, at the night rendezvous scene, Salstein’s hand gestures went too decorative as usual.

Anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is Dacha Dweller: I liked Susan Jones more than Martine Van Hamel who was so serious, therefore looked somewhat pathetic. Susan Jones was appropriately sweet and silly, which I think is the key feature to smoothly handle the unfaithfulness issue crouching beneath the whole story. IMO, sweet and silly Tatiana-like touch made all these fuss look like a light, one-off happening simply caused by a powerful enchant of ballet, evoking ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Otherwise, seeing these unfaithful spouses may make us deeply or bitterly sigh like when we see the brattish kids at the Alexei R’s new Nutcracker.

Old Dacha Dweller: I was curious to see how Clinton Luckett will do this, who I only remember as a ballet master for Gomes and Hallberg, and Duke in the Lady of Camellias, Prince of Verona or Frair Laurence in the Romeo and Juliet. Well, it’s hard to make detailed comments on his acting as an Old Dacha Dweller, but I enjoyed it, and eager to see him in the role of Kulygin, Masha’s husband in Kenneth MacMillan’s Winter Dreams, which Jonathan Cope did so excellently this season at Royal Ballet.

Milkmaid: I can’t miss mentioning Misty Copeland, her swift feet, her sweet shyness during a short duet with a guy, and her triumphant look doing the milking.

I think a part of the reason why I prefer the first casting in almost all roles lies in that I was getting tired and losing my concentration slowly day by day. With Osipova, the alternate casting will have different color and can be more exciting than this time.

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I have typed the Bright Stream's synopsis of Act I (of II) from the Kennedy Center program. Perhaps, if there is interest, other members could type in Act II.

Act I

SCENE 1: Early Afternoon.

It is autumn in the steppes of the North Caucasus. Zina, a local amusements organizer, buries her head in a book while her husband, Pyotr, tries to distract her, inducing the others to share in his efforts -- Gavrilych, the collective farm activist; Galya, the schoolgirl, with her friends; and two dacha dwellers, an eldery man and his anxious-to-be-younger-than-she is wife. They await the arrival of a train carrying a brigade of famous artists to take part in the harvest festival.

AFter they arrive, Zina hails the ballet dancer [sic; I think this should say the ballerina]; they recognize each other as old friends from ballet school. Zina introduces the ballerina to her husband who, dazzled, begins to court the ballerina as Zina becomes increasingly jealous.

Scene 2: Twilight.

Field workers from the Bright Stream collective farm greet the artists with an improvised celebration. The artists distribute gifts to the collective's best workers: a gramophone for Gavrilych and a silk dress for the best milkmaid. The grey-haired "inspectors of quality" and Gavrilych break into a dance and force the late-arriving dacha dwellers to join the merriment with an ancient Chaconne. An amateur group organized by Zina continues the celebration lead [sic] by the milkmaid and the tractor driver. As the merriment increases, Gavrilych winds up his new gramophone and asks the guests artists to dance.

The acordionist joins the dancing with the schoolgirl Galya, and young field workers from Kuban and the Caucasus burst into a spirited, warlike dance. As the revelers pause for refreshments, the old dacha dweller whispers in the visiting ballerina's ear that he would like to see her again, and his wife makes a similar proposal to the ballerina's partner. Meanwhile, Pyotr goes off with the ballerina. Distraught, Zina starts to cry, and the young people, together with Gavrilych, try to calm her down until the ballerina returns and assures Zina that she has no intention of flirting with Pyotr. She suggests that Zina tells the young people that she too used to be a dancer.

Zina agrees and the two friends dance together provoking general astonishment. The ballerina proposes that a joke be played on Pyotr and the unfaithful old dacha dwellers: she will dress up in her partner's costume and go and meet the anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is dacha dweller; her partner, made up as a female dancer, shall rendezvous with the old dacha dweller; and Zina, dressed in the ballerina's costume, shall go to meet Pyotr.

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Here is the second act synopsis:

Act II

Scene 1: Evening

The young people have assembled. The accordionist has taken a fancy to Galya, the schoolgirl who had danced with him so merrily earlier in the day. He whispers to her that he will soon be back and that she should wait for him.

The pranksters do their costumes as Galya relays her conversation with the accordionist. To add to the fun, the tractor driver puts on a dog costume and suggests to Galya that she should meet the accordionist as proposed, but that he, disguised as a dog, will not allow the accordionist to approach her. The tractor driver protects Galya to enthusiastically that the artist finally realizes he is being mocked and joins the conspirators.

The elderly dacha dweller arrives wheeling a bicycle and sporting his most impressive hunting gear and gun. He catches sight of his beautiful ballerina in the middle of a clump of trees. In the darkness, he is too enchanted to note his Sylphide’s masculine form. His wife arrives in ballet shoes to impress the male dancer and catches her husband flirting. Angered, she chases him off, but the tractor driver frightens her when, still in his dogskin, he rides by on the bicycle. Appearing in her partner’s costume, the ballerina helps the anxious-to-be-younger-than-she-is dacha dweller to recover then mocks her romantic illusions. Waiting for the ballerina, Pyotr is met by his own wife in disguise. Zina jokes and flirts with him; when he fails to recognize her, Zina disappears into the bushes.

The old dacha dweller and his “Sylphide” come running in. The ballerina, still dressed in male clothing, tries to intervene by pretending to be the Sylphide’s hurt lover. She challenges the dacha dweller to a duel. The disguised ballerina fires first and misses. As the dacha dweller takes aim, Gavrilych bangs a pail and the old man thinks he has fired. The Sylphide falls to the ground as the horrified dacha dweller flees the scene. After he disappears, the “victim” comes to life and dances to the delight of his fellow plotters. The dacha dwellers return and realize they have been victims of an elaborate prank.

Scene 2: Morning of the following day

The field workers gather in a meadow to enjoy the harvest festival performance. Pyotr waits excitedly for the show to begin so that he can relive the experience of the previous evening’s performance. To his great astonishment, two ballerinas dressed exactly alike appear on stage and dance, their faces hidden by masks. When the dance ends, they raise their veils and reveal their secret. The confused Pyotr timidly begs his wife’s forgiveness and they reconcile. Pyotr has learned his lesson: he now knows that his modest Zina is both a first-class worker and a marvellous ballerina.

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