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Boston Ballet - 'The Taming of the Shrew'

Marriage: the human stain

by S.E. Arnold

November 6, 2004 -- Wang Theatre, Boston

In contrast to the cursed love that fixes the daily rhythm of Odette’s metamorphosis from human to swan to swan, the quiet, committed love of marriage discovers in the fox-like Petruchio and shrew-like Kate their humanity.

Both Odette and Kate, however, endure, if not desire the attention of often untamed males (meaning given to swilling rather than sobriety) but their wanton taming (meaning opening for use) of bottles of wine. In fact, the Bacchic Petruchio stumbles into Cranko’s two act version of Shakespeare’s five act "The Taming of the Shrew" goofily drunk and heavily draped by a brace of “Kates” (Kate- a common Shakespearean term for prostitute), who with well-practiced ease readily bereft him of doublet, boots, hose, and purse.

By exploiting the now penniless Petruchio’s need to settle his bar account, the rivals for the hand of Bianca, Lucento, Hortensio, and Gremio find a way to beat her father’s demand that her older sister Kate, wed first. Their ruse: pay Petruchio to marry Kate. With Kate removed, the three conspiring suitors are then free to woo and perhaps to broach (meaning opening for use, so read ‘tame’) the vessel of Bianca’s heart.

Save for the dictionary explanations of ‘tame,’ ‘Kate,’ and the superstitious equation of wickedness with the guiltless shrew, it was the clarity and detail of Cranko’s choreography rather than any textual reference that provided the synopsis of the ballet written above. Whether delivered as exaggerated gesture, such as Kate and her neighbor’s contemptuous spiting in the opening scene, the rival suitor’s cartoonish Sylvester the Cat-like stalking of the vulnerable Petruchioin in the Tavern scene, their imitation of Charlie Chaplin’s signature waddle at the end of Act I, scene iv, the instrumental whistle ‘lip-synced’ with Gremio’s poetry reading in Act I, scene iii, the hilarious opening scene of Act II that features Petruchio and Kate on a horse or danse d’ecole every motion of "Shrew" seemed to advance the plot or illuminate character.

Additionally, the romantic harmonies and use of orchestral color, plus the ever changing meters of the score composed especially for Cranko’s "Shrew" by Kurt-Heinz Stolze betray the expectation of twanging, homophonic baroque business suggested by the “after Domenico Scaralatti” description of the music. In fact, Stolze uses the distinctive copulating skeletons (as one famous conductor quipped) sound of the harpsichord sparely, and as a way to mock the flowery pretensions of the rival suitors and their artful scheming and counter-scheming. One hears instead the drama of marshaling trumpets that not only herald but also shape with sonic speed lines the swoop of Kate’s attack on Bianca in Act I.

Combinations of harp, piano, and strings typically accompany the pas de deux between Lucento and Bianca or Kate and Petruchio. Yet at the all-important moment of the final pas for Kate and Petruchio, Stolze avoids the gush one might expect at the end of a romantic comedy. Melodically restrained, minor-ish – meaning reflective in feeling – in mode, and finely textured and pastel in orchestral color the music for the Act II, scene vi, pas informs the ballet with the seriousness appropriate to the business of the marriage game. "Taming" is, after all, humans rather than either foxes or shrews that marry. Petruchio and Kate surrender their wildness for the steady tedium of human domesticity and its commitments. They are human still, and yet Kate lost none of her persuasive powers: she merely tamed them and tames them differently.

Bright. Sharp. & Driven. On the final Saturday of its run of "Taming of the Shrew," the Boston Ballet absolutely glowed. And in this brightness one nevertheless found the distinctive talents of Carlos Molina.  Molina, a premier if not the preemptive Onegin could make, one thinks, justifiable claim to being a premier Petruchio. And as Kate, the matinee performance of Ribeiro and the evening performance of Suarez – who replaced the injured Ponomarenko - took one beyond a vicarious and distanced empathy with their character into self-erasing identity.

Edited by Jeff.

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