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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
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
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.
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
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
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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