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Nothing Tame about this 'Shrew'

Pennsylvania Ballet - 'The Taming of the Shrew'

by Lori Ibay

February 28, 2002 -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia

Billed as the ultimate battle of the sexes, Pennsylvania Ballet's production of John Cranko's "The Taming of the Shrew" boldly promised "a perfect blend of comedy, slapstick, and superb dance." On an unusually warm February afternoon, the restless Saturday matinee crowd buzzed with anticipation, and the company's performance did not disappoint. With a lively score (by Domenico Scarlatti arranged by Kurt Heinz-Stolze) and beautiful sets and costumes (both by Susan Benson) to go along with the comedy, slapstick, and yes -- superb dancing, PAB dazzled its audience with its rendering of William Shakespeare's comedy.

The humor began nearly as soon as the curtain rose with the appearance of Bianca's three suitors -- Lucentio, Hortensio, and Gremio -- played by Edward Cieslak, Jonathan Stiles, and Jeffrey Gribler, respectively. Throughout the ballet, the trio's precise comedic timing drew laughter from the audience, and each suitor expressed individuality with effective acting. Lucentio, Bianca's favorite suitor, has the most opportunity for real dancing, and Cieslak demonstrated that his acting skills were matched with his clean technique and steady partnering.

Bianca, danced by soloist Valerie Amiss, is the dainty younger daughter of the wealthy Baptista, played by Alexei Charov. Ever-willing to be wooed by her suitors, Amiss danced daintily and gracefully providing wonderful contrast to her humorous suitors as well as her strong-willed older sister Katherina (Kate), played by Amy Aldridge.

In the role of Kate, Baptista's outspoken older daughter (who must wed before Bianca is allowed to marry), Aldridge excelled. With careful control, she transitioned smoothly between stamping feet and light, airy footwork, and danced with power that paralleled the will of her character. Aldridge also showed off her acting abilities as she reluctantly transformed her character from "the shrew" to the docile wife of Petruchio, the man who eventually woos her.

Opposite Kate, Petruchio, played by James Ady, makes his own transformation from inebriated bachelor to doting husband. Like Aldridge, Ady transitioned effortlessly between drunken, off-balance movements and impressive powerful jumps and perfectly centered pirouettes. As a pair, the two collaborated well, exhibiting fluid and graceful movement mixed in with quick, well-timed slaps, kicks, and punches. However, most breathtaking were the unique, innovative, and risky -- often downright dangerous -- lifts, executed unwaveringly by the pair. The duo's fortitude drew gasps and applause from the captive audience, and minor stumbles reminded the observer of the complexity hidden by their facility.

The corps de ballet helped to set the mood of the scenes and created a backdrop for the action with the ensemble weaving intricate patterns on the stage and creating lively commotion. Charity Eagens, Ashley Flood, Jessica Gattinella, Brian Debes, Yosbel Delgado, and Jamar Goodman represented the strong unison of the corps with fast footwork and precise timing in their pas de six in Act II.

The many minor characters also added colorful humor to the story, demonstrating the company's acting ability. Standout performances included the hilarious Meredith Rainey as the Priest; Tara Keating and Meredith Reffner as the Courtesans; and Philip Colucci, Neil Marshall, Juan Carlos Penuela, and Andre Vytoptov as the Servants.

"The Taming of the Shrew" showcases Pennsylvania Ballet's versatility as a company with tremendous athleticism as well as excellent skills as actors. With do-or-die lifts and scenes with minimal dancing intended for story and character development, deficiencies in either facet could have spelled disaster -- but PAB's performance confirmed that there's nothing tame about this "Shrew."

Edited by Jenai

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