The Bolshoi Ballet production of The Taming of the Shrew streamlines the tale to its core: the harsh romancing of Petruchio and Katherine and the mirrored sweeter coalescence of Bianca and Lucentio. The play benefits in some ways, losing Christopher Sly and the peculiar metatheatrical beginning is for the best, but this version, without disguises or comic interjections, is a little overtrimmed. The main plot ends with our Shrew tamed early in the second and final act as the brash duo finally dance each other into submission. From then the play is a series of gradual couplings, first of Hortensio to his widow, then Grumio to an invented housekeeper, and Lucentio to Bianca filling out the stage for the major dance pieces.
One of the major problems is the absence of humour from what is one of Shakespeare’s funniest plays, besides some pantomime from Biondello and light slapstick in some dances it is non-existent. It is hard to still consider it Shakespeare without the language, particularly considering Shakespeare never invented his plots, choosing instead to nab them from existing texts. But if we aren’t too finickity with what we call Shakespeare we can admit the way the production comes alive through the interaction of Petruchio and Kate retains the essential fury of the play, and their rough romancing lends itself well to ballet as Petruchio closes intimately before throwing Kate away as the pair yank and drag each other around the stage until the bully lovers finally calm. Their realisation, through war, of mutual passion is handled well though definitely eased by the director’s choice to cut all misogynistic controversies in the play, enlarging Kate’s taming of Petruchio’s bravado allows them to soothe each other into a fairer partnership but removes a lot of the controversy and discussion that revolves around the play.
Shostakovich has been plundered for the ballet’s brilliant score. Stitched together from over 20 of his films it is quiet for the soft romance of Bianca and Lucentio, rises for the coarse wooing of Petruchio and Kate and lessens to poignancy in the rare sad moments such as Kate leaving her father’s home, cast now in the tranquil light of nostalgia, dragged into the unknown by a husband who turns more brutish by the moment. It would be impossible to include all the subtleties of Shakespeare’s original without speech, and in this format the production would not benefit from it, rather it should be watched as a relaxing but toothless interpretation set to fantastic music.
The Taming of the Shrew was broadcast live to venues nationwide. Image source: LincolnCenter.org