Monday, 25 November 2013

Stuttgart Ballet's "Taming of the Shrew" - well worth the Wait

In the film that preceded yesterday's performance by the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company of Hans van Manen's Kwintet, one of the dancers (I think it was Daniel Cooke but I could be wrong) spoke about the history of the work and the dancers for whom it was created  but added "it was way before my time," Oh puer felix to be so talented and so young.  Alas van Danzig and such stars as Alexandra Radius were not before my time. Van Manen was one of the Colossuses of the time that I first began to appreciate dance. And John Cranko (whom I discussed in "Cranko's "Taming of the Shrew": Now's our chance to see one of the Ballets everyone should see before they die" 21 Sept 2013) was another.

I first heard of Cranko's Taming of the Shrew from the review in the July 1969 issue of Dance and Dancers and I made up my mind to see the ballet when I could.  Last Saturday I achieved that ambition when Cranko's company, the Stuttgart Ballet, performed the ballet at Sadler's Wells. The French have an expression "Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre" which is roughly equivalent to "patience is a virtue" but it means something more than that.  If you wait long enough you will be amply rewarded albeit, perhaps, in Heaven. And so it proved with the Stuttgart Ballet's performance on 23 Nov 2013.

Cranko had created the ballet for the great Marcia Haydée who was one of the greats of her age along with Antoinette Sibley, Lynn Seymour and Alexandra Radius (see "Ballerina" 1 July 2013). However, something of her greatness was reflected by Sue Jin Kang who danced Katherina on Saturday together with Flip Barankiewicz as Petruchio. These are both exceptionally gifted dancers as you can see from the YouTube clip of their dancing those roles in an earlier performance.  

The ballet follows the play pretty faithfully save that Cranko dropped the prologue and substituted his own sub-plot of Lucentio's duping Gremio and Hortensio into marrying two local sex workers, something that could easily have been written  by Shakespeare. For a feminist Taming of the Shrew is not an easy play to watch and the ballet was worse with actions not words.  Starving poor Katherina and depriving her of sleep Guantanamo style so that she ends up saying: 
"Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable."
Ooh it makes my blood boil. I was mentally settling the divorce petition  on Saturday night. But Petruchio as danced by Barankiewicz is a hunk so I suppose you can see why she gave in to him. :-(

Cranko gives strong roles to Lucentio danced by Evan McKie and Bianca danced by Hyo-Jung Kang but also demanding character roles for Gremio (Brent Parolin), the priest (Matteo Crockard-Villa) and the tarts (Magdalena Dziegielewska and Daisy Long).

This is a happy ballet with a strong sense of fun. We English like to tease the Germans for their lack of a sense of humour so we say; but this ballet is hilarious.  There are at least as many laughs as is Ashton's La fille mal gardée.   Bits that the audience loved were Bianca's turning Gremio's script the right way round after he had finished wooing her and the dancers on their backs at the end of the first Act.

I ought to say a few words about the score which was Kurt Heinz Stolze's arrangement of Scarlatti. Not everybody liked it but I did.  Tragically, Stolze like Cranko died far too young.  Also a word about Elizabeth Dalton's sets and costumes - simple as though for The Globe but instantly recognizable.

One of the reasons I have had to wait 44 years to see Shrew is that the Stuttgart Ballet hardly ever come to London. I think we had to wait 20 years to see it staged in England for the first time and even longer for the company to come back again.  This should be a staple of all major ballet companies because it has everything. Powerful turns and jumps for the men, a wonderfully dramatic role for the ballerina and lots for the character artists. Just the sort of thing for a new director to get his teeth into. 

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