John Cranko choreographed his comical ballet Taming of the Shrew for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1969. Not seen in the UK for more than twenty years, this performance of the ballet was no exception to the well-known quality of the Stuttgart Ballet. Reid Anderson, the current artistic director of the company, has placed importance on preserving and nurturing the Cranko legacy. This re-staging of Shakespeare's love story is surprisingly witty and romantically danced. The plot is easy to follow and Cranko's presentation of the characters is simple.
The central character of the of the ballet is Katherina, the shrew, who is tamed by the nobleman Petruchio. Another male figure is Lucentio, who falls in love with the mild, beautiful young Bianca, Katherina's sister. Problems arise when Bianca's father declares that neither of his daughters will be wed until his eldest daughter Katherina is married. The headstrong Katherina's rejection of any and all relationships adds to the conundrum. Determined, Lucentio meets Petruchio in a cafe. Petruchio, eager to find a bride, is tricked into falling in love with Katherina and the story develops.
Act I began with the three suitors, Hortensio (Roman Novitzky), Lucentio (David Moore) and Gremio (Ozkan Ayik), running in with billowing capes. The pastel toned costumes added a warmth to the comical movement phrases and clownish facial expressions of the three dancers. Ayik was exquisite in this opening section. Bianca (Elisa Badenes) was sweet and sensible, her movements were gentle and romantic in nature. Katherina (Alicia Amatriain), always angry and aggressive, conveyed immaturity through kicks, punches and strong pelvis thrusts.
Act II continued to be equally funny, and was marked by a strong use of diagonals, the dancers etching lines in the air. The characters all had a gleeful stage presence, and Badenes' dancing had the elegance of a pearl with the composure of a queen. This was beautifully juxtaposed by the Charlie Chaplin quality of Amatriain's character and her dancing. The love-hate relationship between Katherina and Petruchio (Alexander Jones) ended when the choreography gestured that she had surrendered to him. Afterwards we saw a marionette-like playful Katherina, marking a real shift in the ballet. Near the finale, Katherina, enamored, gently caressed Petruchio, swayed back and forth, creating an intimate moment between the two. The soft gestures, ephemeral movements and warm lighting added to the climax. Their partnering and sprung steps, foiled by the criss-cross patterns of their duet, were magical!
The well-coordinated dialogue between conductor Wolfgang Heinz and the dancers contributed much to the success of the performance. While Cranko's choreography is humorous in its nature, the music and its synchronisation with the movement added to the comicality. A highlight was the interlude in which Katherina and Petruchio traveled on a horse while the scrim projected a green valley. The pantomime and chemistry between the two dancers, marked by the timing of the music and exaggerated facial expressions, was sensational. Another highlight was the Harlequin group piece, which was colorful and had a child-like quality. The Harlequin party was full of clown-like shuffles, heel-toe walks, parallel feet and exaggerated head movements. The only parts which failed to convince were some of the corps de ballet sections. The dancers could not meet their marks and were often out of time with one another, rhythmically and spatially struggling to stay together. Line formations were used throughout the piece, and the choreography suffered when these designs were not executed properly.
Overall, Stuttgart Ballet's Taming of the Shrew was whimsical and brilliant to watch. The principle dancers were technically perfect and delivered an emotional, comical performance. The Cranko masterpiece is undoubtedly amusing and equally sophisticated.