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Flash Review 3, 11-6: The Untamed
A 'Shrew' for Barzel

By Jessica Swoyer
Copyright 2002 Jessica Swoyer

CHICAGO -- John Cranko's evening-length "The Taming of the Shrew" launched the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago's 2002-2003 season at Chicago's Auditorium Theater October 16. Cranko's 1969 take on this Shakespearean comedy, staged on the Joffrey by Georgette Tsinguirides (who worked closely with Cranko on the original) continues to delight audiences with its intelligent wit and caricatured choreography.

Cranko's "Shrew" invites the audience to laugh with comedic motifs and gags from the very beginning; the ballet even seems to chuckle itself at times.

Carrying the humor in the first act were Bianca's (Suzanne Lopez) three suitors: Gremio, Lucentiuo and Hortensio. These wonderfully developed characters are, when together, like the Three Stooges, banging mandolins over each other's heads and walking with funny Chaplinesque waddles. But they are also complete on their own. Although Gremio, danced by Michael Levine, is intended to be the more comedic of the three, Matthew Roy Prescott's eager to impress Hortensio was classic; a boy whose alter-ego appears when he's dressed in his deep red Don Juan like-cape, yet is still clumsy, with the long-limbs of a pre-adolescent teenager.

Samuel Pergande's Lucentiuo, the gentleman of the three suitors and the obvious choice for Bianca to wed, plays by the rules. Wooing Bianca with manners and in a traditional pas de deux, Pergande aided her in a series of sweeping saut de basques and delicately presented developees. But the most romantic gesture within this pas was a pirouette in fondue that spiraled to the floor most elegantly, ending in a kneeling embrace.

Both Lopez and Pergande's characters were fairly tempered in their display of affection for the other. From the manicured topiaries decoratively placed throughout the courtyard to their stiff smiles, Lucentiuo and Bianca's world exists in a controlled environment massively contrasting with the love affair about to unfold between Bianca's shrewish sister Kate, danced by Maia Wilkins, and Petruchio, danced by Davis Robertson.

Playing alternate roles from last May, when they were paired in Robert Joffrey's "Astarte" (then Wilkins seemed to do the taming, controlling desires and delivering them as she pleased) Wilkins and Robertson were fervent in their dancing, particularly during Cranko's pas de deux for the lovers at the end of the second act.

The passionate and charismatic chemistry between them was contagious. Daring lifts were approached with grace, as when Wilkins stood on Robertson's chest, arching away from his body as he moved over the stage. And yet Cranko, never forgetting the frumpy and ungainly Kate from the beginning of the ballet, has Petruchio drop her to the floor in an angular heap.

In fact the translation of "Shrew" from text to stage is embodied by Cranko's choreography and particularly evident in the body language of Petruchio and Kate. Throughout the ballet Kate's mulish behavior conveys itself with hunched shoulders, turned in toes, pirouettes in parallel and darting foot-work that seems to finish every phrase with an emphasized exclamation point. Petruchio's loose strut effortlessly unfolds into massive tours landing in deep lunges and angles that, new in 1969, are still fresh today.

The process of taming the shrew is also reflected in the partnering. Kate's jetes are caught by Petruchio at the ankle, forcing her to land in arabesque. As the pair weave in, out, over and under each other Kate's defiance becomes weaker. Her limp body allows Petruchio to manipulate her movement and then suddenly a twitch of the shrew reveals itself through fighter's fists or firey bourrees.

Although "Taming of the Shrew" does not follow your traditional ballet formula -- using a story as backdrop for the dancing -- Cranko's choreography finds a compromise between the two, resulting in beautiful pas de deux and ensemble work, that is pure story-telling.

A chaotic pajama party evolves in the first act as an ill-tempered Kate romps through the suitors' serenade to her sister, the villagers coming out to shoo everyone away. Here wonderful rhythms were created using stomping and clapping by the full company. Swirling floor patterns and constant throwing of the villagers' arms echoed Kate's mad ranting and movement throughout the stage.

And in Bianca's wedding scene at the end of Act II, the women in the corps enjoy movement initiated with the hips, long arms overhead and floppy wrists that droop with each step, and undulating rib cages in chasses. Cranko not only played with choreography in this ballet but also with spatial patterns: the chaos that existed in the first act neatly redistributes itself into layers of merging dancers in the second, perhaps intimating that the Shrew had been tamed.

Noteworthy characters include the prostitutes, colorfully danced by Deborah Dawn and Kathleen Thielhelm. Undressing a drunken Petruchio until he's nude, they mock him with flagrant shakes of the bum, and shimmying breasts. Even more scandalous was Adam Sklute's white-haired priest flashing his knickers.

The score by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, after the 18th-century compositions of Domenico Scarlatti, is very compatible with Cranko's choreography, and a refreshing departure from the traditional romantic sound of older ballets.

While the JBC rarely fails to excite its audiences, this time, undoubtedly, Wilkins's and Robertson's uninhibited performances fueled the energy of the ensemble.

These performances of the "Taming of the Shrew" ran from October 16 through October 20 and were dedicated by the JBC to dance critic and archivist Ann Barzel, in celebration of her 97th birthday.

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