Zina, the heroine of Alexei Ratmansky's The Bright Stream, works as the morale officer on a collectivist farm in the Caucasus. No wonder she looks glum. To take everyone's mind off the mass starvation and the bloody struggles with the Cossacks, she organises... No, actually there's none of that, although at the harvest festival that frames the ballet a few men who own furry hats do get to square off bombastically against some other men, who don't.
When Fyodor Lopukhov first choreographed Shostakovich's third and last purpose-built ballet in 1935 it was slammed by Pravda for being poorly researched and insufficiently serious. They would have hated this 2003 version. In the first few seconds, against Boris Messerer's backdrop of impossibly bounteous sheaves of wheat, a squadron of aeroplanes narrowly avoids colliding with what looks like a migrating flock of tractors - and that's about as realistic as it gets.
The arrival of a ballet company at the farm leads to multiple infatuations and, thanks to some enthusiastic cross-dressing, a string of mistaken seductions. One old man, who fancies the ballerina, gets manhandled instead by her partner (Sergei Filin, on opening night, as a bullocking parody Giselle, with long white tutu, flowers in his hair, coyly raised arms and, from God knows where, a breast heaving with uncontainable emotions). Meanwhile, a masked Zina does her own ballerina impersonation to lure back her husband's roving eye, and the real ballerina puts on a flat cap and breeches to mislead the old man's wife.
Among all the sleight-of-costume, Ratmansky proves himself a deft caricaturist. He fills the stage with vivid grotesques, without ever allowing them to become macabre, and even his more rounded characters are drawn with impressively swift strokes. You see Zina's suppressed, girlish romanticism instantly in the way she crosses her ankles when she thinks she's alone with a book, and her husband's careless, small-town-hero status is laid bare in puppyish leaps.
Light, funny, filled with the hoariest of conventions and broad as a babushka's hips, The Bright Stream is one of ballet's guilty pleasures. Go For Broke, which Ratmansky, the Bolshoi's current director, created last year and chose to open the Bolshoi's only triple bill of the season, is more dutiful, and duller. An abstract piece with lots of cute entrances and exits, it might have been intended to show off the growing neatness of the company's footwork under his stewardship. It succeeded well enough, but showed off even more Ratmansky's chutzpah, for including it on a bill with the cutest run-on, run-off abstract ballet ever made, Balanchine's Symphony in C.
Sandwiched between the two was a slice of pure baloney. Roland Petit's Pique Dame, based on The Queen of Spades but danced to Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony, is filled with choreography that looks like it was purchased as a job lot at an Am-Dram society's end-of-season boot sale. The corps get to hop from foot to foot, as if they were in Oklahoma! They do big shoulders and minstrel hands and, at the margins, a couple of lifts that would offend the sensibilities of a hod-carrier. The movement for the principals is more idiosyncratic, but just as ludicrous. Nicolai Tsiskaridze's gambling addict anti-hero, Hermann, is a fusion of camp swooning and little tin-soldier tantrums that would see him barred from every table in Vegas - where they turn away nobody. When he and his cohorts put their hands up in front of their faces, they are meant to be examining what fate has dealt them, but could just as easily be hiding in well-deserved shame.
Even the innate theatricality of Ilze Liepa, as the old woman with the secret of how never to lose, is rendered powerless by this material. If you didn't know the story, you'd think it was about the travails of a transvestite version of referee Graham Poll, constantly flashing cards at people without ever, sadly, sending them off. In this context the simple, wilting loveliness of Svetlana Lunkina, as the girl who mistakenly thinks Hermann likes her, feels almost offensive, as if garnishing such rubbish with so much beauty is itself a kind of artistic dereliction.
The problem of what can or can't be communicated in dance is raised more explicitly, but no less tiresomely, by Brazilian choreographer Bruno Beltrao and his Grupo de Rua de Niterói. Beltrao takes hip hop and, literally, breaks it down. Instead of trying to make it faster and flashier, he examines the different styles and their particular techniques to find out exactly how they can make coherent, satisfying narratives. The danger, as you might expect, is that it can all get a little academic. At the beginning of "From Popping to Pop, or Vice-Versa", Eduardo Hermanson's entire body moves in a controlled series of tiny internal explosions, while Eduardo Reis looks like a Bruce Lee tribute act auditioning for the next Kylie Minogue tour. The way they converge over 20 minutes is a fascinating blend of combat and osmosis - a visual lecture well worth staying for. But the accompanying Telesquat, with its overlayered dance, text, video and hysterical live description of what the dancers "represent" (a penguin, a baker, love) is like being harangued by a philosophy student drunk on red wine and Derrida. Nothing means anything, they insist, ad nauseam, and in this case at least, they are right.
Grupo de Rua de Niterói, Edinburgh Playhouse (0131 473 2000), Tues and WedsReuse content