tue 23/04/2024

The Taming of the Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House | reviews, news & interviews

The Taming of the Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House

The Taming of the Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House

Unfeminist comedy in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Shakespeare ballet

Fun, games and everyday sexism: Vladislav Lantratov and Ekaterina Krysanova as the squabbling lovers Petruchio and Katharina in 'The Taming of the Shrew'© Bolshoi Theatre

What do women want? Ballet plots are not the best guide, since the main desiderata – a well-paying job, coffee dates with girlfriends, not to die young of a broken heart – are rarely the lot of ballet heroines. Comedies at least tend to have the not-dying part covered, but they often fall down on at least one of two other big requirements: that one's family should be supportive, and that one's romantic partner should not be a chump.

Pity Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew, which the Bolshoi presented in London last night in Jean-Christophe Maillot's 2014 production for the company: burdened with unsupportive family and chump husband, and nary a coffee date sight.

Whether you love the production or find it mildly bemusing will probably depend on whether you find the slapstick bits of Prokofiev's Cinderella funny. Pantomimic ballet silliness has never really done it for me, but if you do like it, Maillot does it very well indeed: there is lots of mincing on pointe, hip-jiggling, exaggerated flat feet and so forth, all put together with fluent inventiveness and looking as good as you would expect on the rarefied Russian dancers, who can fully exploit the comic potential of long, long legs, exaggerated extensions and vampishly spiky fingers. Clean blue lighting (Dominique Drillot), a minimalist set of white shapes (Ernest Pignon-Ernest) and fairly simple modern costumes (Augustin Maillot) all help it to look and feel much fresher than Stuttgart Ballet's rather Blackadder-esque Cranko production, and the score is excellent, a skilful mash-up of Shostakovich's incidental music which sets just the right sardonic-yet-sentimental tone.

Semyon Chudin and Olga Smirnova in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Alice Blangero.Russians are extremely good at this tone (witness Alexei Ratmansky, whose Cinderella catches it brilliantly) and the Bolshoi soloists who play the named characters are all engaging in their various hammy roles. Anna Tikhomirova's Housekeeper is improbably glamorous, but a compelling stage presence in her black feather top; Artemy Belyakov's Baptista is genial and absent-minded like Peter Capaldi's Doctor (whom he much resembles physically); Vyacheslav Lopatin and Igor Tsvirko bring spark to the duff suitor roles of Gremio and Hortensio, the one short, randy and Cockney-flash with bling and snappy pirouettes, the other a big muscles/tiny brain type who shows off with barrel-turn pyrotechnics. Principal Olga Smirnova as Bianca is perhaps the oddest casting choice: the remote, otherworldly quality that makes her such an excellent Nikiya or Odette hardly fits the role of a golden everygirl younger daughter – though it is incongruously funny to see tall, dreamy Smirnova subjected to sisterly physical torments by brisk little Ekaterina Krysanova as Katharina. And all reservations are suspended for the duration of Smirnova's swoony pas de deux, set to the Romance from the Gadfly suite, with Semyon Chudin's dishy, princely Lucentio. (Wouldn't you just like to see him as Prince Florimund?). (Pictured above right: Chudin and Smirnova)

Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo by Mikhail Logvinov.Krysanova's relationship with Vladislav Lantratov's disconcertingly Heath Ledger-like Petruchio is altogether less swoony, for all he seems like a terribly nice chap really, under that blustering exterior. Maillot claims extensively in the programme notes that his Katharina gives as good as she gets and that theirs is a marriage of equals, but what happens on stage reflects that only up to a point. Yes, there is some mildly touching shared humour and not a little chemistry between them, but none of that erased for me the fantastic asymmetry of their wedding scene (pictured left), in which Petruchio shoves Katharina violently without attracting censure, but her one retaliatory slap sours the mood completely. This, and various ostensibly milder forms of spousal abuse (if you think gaslighting is milder than battery) are the fly in the ointment of the Tahiti-trotting happy ending, where everyone marvels at Katharina and Petruchio's newfound harmony. Katharina dreamed of love right at the beginning; is it so unimaginable that she could get it without first undergoing the purgatory of Petruchio's "discipline"? Or spending most of the ballet in her underwear?

The day when ballet will actually teach us what women want is still remote, then, but Maillot's Shrew manages to be engaging despite its political incorrectness: more goofy than dangerous, and a decent addition to the repertoire of ballet comedies.




Surely 5 stars, Everyone danced and acted brilliantly. The audience cheered for 10 minutes. The best show so far. And they are putting it on with different casts for each show. What a company

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