State Street Ballet's 2002-2003 season kicked off last weekend with two world-premiere performances of Robert Sund's new ballet, Taming of the Shrew, loosely based on William Shakespeare's eponymous play. Set to music by Ravel, Stravinsky, and some popular music from the 1950s, Sund transports Shakespeare's romantic comedy to the 50s, with characters, costumes, hairstyles, and set designs reflecting caricatures of the time.
Bianca (played by Alyson Mattoon) is the popular, pretty girl who has a string of boys following her around. Louie (David Fonnegra), an amoral person of means, wants to marry her, but her father (Richard Dickinson), who is perplexed and somewhat flustered by his two daughters, insists that her older sister, the spitfire, independent-thinking, take-no-attitude-nor-prisoners Kate (Jennifer Batbouta) must be married first. Louie conspires with his friends to pay Pete (Alberto Colon), a swaggering, drinking playboy who flirts with anything in his path, to marry Kate so that Louie may marry Bianca. Pete, who is hard up on money, agrees readily, and mischief, comedy, and misunderstandings follow.
It seems to me that the ballet is about Kate and Pete's relationship, because they are the only characters to change. Other characters are around to advance the plot. The dancing, clearly based on a ballet vocabulary, embodies Kate and Pete's contentious relationship, and the comedy of the play. There were many acrobatic lifts, with Colon tossing, flipping, and dropping (purposely!) the diminutive Batbouta. Batbouta in turn got to flip, kick, and push around the much larger Colon. The physical comedy worked well, especially since Batbouta is so much improbably smaller than the hulking Colon, but both were drawn as equal characters, and their feelings about each other were well-expressed in their faces. Only Batbouta was on pointe, with the rest of the girls in soft shoes with heels.
There was a fair bit of mime which was well-integrated with the dancing. Especially funny was Leif Peterson's vaguely frustrated, preoccupied priest, whose mime for wedding vows amusingly depicted the seriousness of such a commitment.
The centerpiece of the ballet for me was the very funny wedding/honeymoon scene of the first act, set to Ravel's Bolero. Highlights for me include Robert Sund's imaginative methods for integrating set changes with dancing, as the scene went from wedding to honeymoon, using spoken voice as a sound effect, Leif Petersen's priest who made the audience laugh just by walking out, Batbouta's and Colon's honeymoon bedroom pas de deux with its acrobatic choreography that clearly reflected the two characters's relationship, and its shockingly explicit consummation at the conclusion of Bolero and the scene.
The Act II opening divertissement for Mattoon and the female corps, danced to Peggy Lee's Fever, was musical, and done well as a pure dance piece. The final pas de deux with Batbouta and Colon gently concluded a ballet with very physical choreography.
Samuel Beckman, playing one of Louie's unnamed friends, had jumps infused with lightness and ballon. Colon impressed with his non-stop swagger as Pete, while Batbouta really did embody the shrew. Technically, the company performed well, with dancing that was musical and solid, and characters that were distinct, and well-characterized.
Sund's choice of music was interesting, as it was fragments of Ravel (piano concerto in G, Bolero, and others), and Stravinsky (Soldier's Tale, Octet for Wind Instruments, and others) instead of an integrated score. Each piece was picked to set the mood and character traits of the scene and characters dancing, and worked well.
<small>[ 11-13-2002, 23:46: Message edited by: Andre Yew ]</small>