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Ballet's reworking of Taming of the Shrew succeeds

Patrick Armand (Petruchio) and Adriana Suarez (Katherine) star in the Boston Ballet production of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.

Taming of the Shrew

Boston Ballet.

Choreographed by John Cranko.

Directed by Bruce Marks.

Music conducted by Jonathan McPhee.

At the Wang Center through May 21.

By Hur Koser
Staff Reporter

Taming of the Shrew is Boston Ballet's latest masterpiece. It is created with all the action, humor, and expressiveness of Shakespeare's original comic masterpiece, combined with the elegance of classical ballet. Reminiscent of this season's Coppelia in its plot and characters, this ballet also sets out to tell a similar tale - a tale about true love.

Bianca, the daughter of the well-to-do Baptista, has three suitors: Hortensius, Gremio, and Lucrentio, all of whom serenade her in the beginning of Act One. Bianca explains to the suitors that her father will not consent to a marriage before Katherine, Baptista's free-thinking daughter, has found a suitable husband. Unfortunately, Katherine has no suitors, since she is notorious for her quick temper and sharp tongue - both of which stem from unceasing comparison to her younger sister's beauty and sweet disposition.

The three suitors enlist the penniless Petruchio, whom they meet in a tavern, to pursue Katherine's hand in marriage. Excited by the prospect of marrying a wealthy girl, Petruchio follows them to Baptista's house. While the younger sister comes to see that Lucrentio is the most admirable of the three scheming suitors, Petruchio has begun to woo Katherine. She first takes Petruchio's advances as mockery and thus takes offense; but once she sees that he is persistent, Katherine believes his intentions are true, and they decide to marry.

Nevertheless, the marriage turns out to be a nightmare for Katherine. In Act Two, we see the newlywed couple after a tumultuous wedding ceremony: Katherine is furious at Petruchio's behavior, and defies her husband at every turn. In response, Petruchio proves to be even more stubborn than Katherine herself; he sets out to "tame" her and refuses to let her eat. She in turn refuses to go to bed with him, and spends the night on the kitchen floor. By the following day, Katherine pretends to give in to be able to eat, and in doing so, she discovers that her husband is actually kinder, more full of life and love than she thought. Contrasting with the apparent "match" between Lucrentio and Bianca, the pairing of Petruchio and Katherine shows that things are not always what they appear to be in matters of heart.

Although the story line of Shakespeare's original comedy is quite intricate, the simplicity of the ballet and the natural flow of the dancing itself is quite remarkable. What is really amazing is that choreographer Jon Cranko remains almost completely faithful to the literary version of Taming of the Shrew, and unifies body motion and dancing to substitute for the missing words. What has come out is a "comedy in two acts", with the only real difference being that the actors are dancers. It seems that Cranko possesses an outstanding ability and inclination to translate prose into vivid movement. He enjoys making the ballet "speak" to the audience, and considers introductory program notes to be unnecessary guides to the plot. "It must be because I have the theater in my blood," he once said. "I always want people to enjoy themselves." Naturally, then, Taming of the Shrew is not your classical Nutcracker or Swan Lake, which are based on fairy tales and mesmerize the audience not with their story lines but with splendid dancing. Rather, Cranko's choreography is a delightful compromise between acting and vivid dancing - closer to pantomime than to either.

The music of Taming of the Shrew is also atypical of Tchaikovsky's romantic tunes. The music heard in the ballet is derived from the early 18th-century compositions of Domenico Scarlatti. Apparently, his Baroque Age melodies were not rendered suitable for the spirit of a ballet throughout the Romantic Era until 1917, when 23 of Vincenzo Tommasini's arrangements of Scarlatti's sonatas were used for the Ballets Russes production of The Good-Humored Ladies. The use of this 18th-century music proved quite daring and original, particularly the sound of the harpsichord. Other choreographers seeking distinctly different ideas in ballet soon recognized the richness of Scarlatti's sonatas - thus came Harlequin for President (1936), La Reja (1959), and Scarlatti (1979). In 1969, Kurt-Heinz Stolze composed variations on themes from Scarlatti to develop an independent orchestral arrangement, which also included the long-neglected harpsichord. The final result is an orchestral form of chamber music in the Baroque style - as strange yet most delightful a musical feast for the ears as the delicate dancing is for the eyes.

No doubt that Pollyana Ribeiro (Katherine) and Patrick Armand (Petruchio) deserve much praise for the success of this ballet. The skill with which Ribeiro personifies the temperamental Katherine, as well as her abrupt transformation, is remarkable even by Broadway standards. Armand deserves equal appreciation both for his acting and for his dancing technique, which makes the toughest moves seem effortless. Other dancers will take turns as Katherine and Petruchio - all worth seeing, though this coming Friday and Sunday Boston Ballet will host William Mari, and I especially suggest watching him with Larissa Ponomarenko. Paul Thrussell, Robert Wallace and Victor Plotnikov will also appear as Petruchio, while Jennifer Gelfand and Adriana Surez will also star as Katherine.

Taming of the Shrew is a suitable choice for Boston Ballet for the last production of quite a successful and productive season, which included both classical and modern works: Giselle, The Nutcracker, Coppelia, the "American Festival", and now, Taming of the Shrew. And next season promises to be even wealthier, as it will include Happily Ever After, Tales of the Arabian Nights, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Sleeping Beauty, and following their tradition of creating entirely new repertoire, Hot & Cool.

It is not quite for sure, though, whether any one of these will be able to repeat the success of Taming of the Shrew . Performances run only until May 21, so reserve your ticket now and feel Shakespeare's words through this dazzling and elegant display of dancing.

Copyright 19,95, The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on .
Volume 115, Number 24.
This story appeared on page 9.

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