Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; November 23, 2013
“The Taming of the Shrew” is often seen as one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ plays. It is difficult to present it in an acceptable way for a modern audience that handles the inherent misoygism although, in some ways, presenting it as a ballet irons out some of the difficulties. Characters are, of necessity, drawn with fairly broad brushstrokes, and this noted John Cranko production emphasises the comedy without ever veering towards vulgarity.
What it also has in spades is delicious choreography. Cecchetti’s influence is everywhere with some delicate glissades, solid ports de bras and steps that really travel and all in the service of the narrative. Macmillan’s dramaticism and Michael Corder’s choreography would seem to have inherited this mantle.
The whole company was superb, wearing the production so lightly that it appeared effortless. Every dancer had the characters and steps thoroughly embodied and educed laughter throughout. Set and costumes complimented the narrative perfectly and the stage management was seamless (and quiet!).
In some ways, the setting is reminiscent of Nureyev’s “Romeo and Juliet”, with a palette of autumnal colours only broken by Katherina’s acid yellow dress which mutes to a subtle yellow/green as she is gradually ‘tamed’. Soaring arches and ballustrated steps suggest grandeur without ever overwhelming.
Petruchio’s fleecing by the whores was an absolute delight and would stand up well as a lighter item for a gala. Angelina Zuccarini and Rachele Buriassi were wonderful as the ladies of the night, pitching their performances at just the right level without becoming crass. The tug of war over the trousers must offer some frisson for audience and performers alike as it surely cannot be predicable when or where Petruchio’s belongings will tumble out!
This “Shrew” is very much and ensemble piece. The company that looked so well-rehearsed and cohesive that it is a little unfair to single out individuals, but the ballet does stand or fall on the performances of those dancing Petruchio and Katherina, and Alicia Amatriain and Alexander Jones in no way disappointed. Amatriain in particular is lissom and strong and a mean actor to boot! The assaults effected on her seem less offensive than often because she is a thoroughly petulant, rude spoiled brat! Jones’ Petruchio however, is all reasonable charm, seeing though Kate’s defensive aggression and bringing out her internal sweetness, which makes their final pas de deux enjoyable rather than sickly. His naivety and optimism are painted so well in the beginning that his determination to bring out the best in his reluctant bride is wholly character-led and credible. Amatriain has a winning way with a flopping lily, brandishing it very effectively as an offensive weapon until it dies in the attempt! (Think Catherine Tate’s bride in “Dr Who!”) The scene where Petruchio deprives her of food is so hilarious that I wanted it to morph into the breakfast scene from “Private Lives” (“Have another brioche, Petruchio”).
Cranko has long been neglected in Britain, possibly due in part to his untimely demise. The occasional short is danced by Birmingham Royal Ballet, but we rarely see “Onegin” and “Shrew” hasn’t been seen here for two decades. How fortunate we are, then, that this is the production to re-introduce it. But, what a pity that it has had so few performances.