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Review: Maillot's 'Taming of the Shrew'


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I've just returned from Moscow, where I twice saw "The Taming of the Shrew," Maillot's new work for the Bolshoi. I attended on consecutive nights, seeing the same cast in all the principal parts.
I have so many positive things to say about these performances, I don't even know where to start! This work seemed to have everything: fresh, gorgeous choreography, innovative staging, pitch-perfect sets and costumes, a great score, a narrative with genuine comedy and wit, and best of all two ferocious, flawless performances from its leads, Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov. Both nights I left the theater feeling elated, and to me that's what great ballet and great theater is all about.
The piece starts in an unconventional way: Before the lights have dimmed, before audience members have even been reminded to turn off their phones, a well-coiffed woman wearing cigarette pants and a mesh shirt strolls out onto the stage and sits down. On both nights I attended, most audience members didn't notice her right away. But more and more did notice as she slowly removed her stilettos and began putting on her toe shoes. A few people even clapped. In return, she flashed a broad smile and waved. Once her pointe shoes were securely tied and she had powdered her nose, the lights dimmed, and she rose to applaud the entrance of the conductor, Igor Dronov. Then she turned to face the stage and, as the first notes of Shostakovitch's music rang through the auditorium, she flung open the curtains, moved to center stage, and began to dance: a series of quick steps en pointe, precise bourres, and something like a backward glissade, as other cast members streamed onto the stage. It was exhilarating, because it was like seeing someone transform from a mere mortal into the most gifted kind -- a dancer!
This dancer, Anna Tikhomirova, played Baptista's maid. In the opening sequence, she and her fellow servants assemble the set while imitating the family they serve: Baptista (Artemy Belyakov) and especially his two daughters. These antics are a great preamble for the real players, who show up soon enough: blonde Bianca (Anastasia Stashkevich), prim in a bright blue circle skirt and white long-sleeved T, and Katharina (Krysanova), red-haired and irritable in a sloppily tied, long emerald-green satin robe over shorts and a bustier. Their personalities are totally embodied in their dancing: Bianca is not to be ignored, as she demonstrates with a gorgeous, high leap in that first scene. But she is the polite one. It's clear who the force is: Katharina, all brashness and bile, as she shoves Bianca in the face and knocks about Bianca's suitors. As if by magic, her long robe never gets in her way, yet eventually she flings it off in a motion that clearly indicates an end to her patience. From that moment on, she's free to do even more, including not one but three fabulous leaps in a row.
These opening scenes are immensely entertaining, but the piece enters a new level with the addition of Petruchio (Lantratov). Tall, shaggy-haired, in a long black feathery coat, he electrifies the scene even further with a blustery entry that segues into a jaw-dropping series of jumps and leaps intended to impress Katharina. When he finally lands at her feet, thumping his chest a few times for good measure, the audience claps sincerely. Katharina, on the other hand, gives him an ironic round of applause, stands, knocks his hat off and shows him a few of her own bravura moves. He then joins her for their first incredible pdd. The game is on!
Throughout the piece, much of the dancing is intensely athletic. (Petruchio lifts Katharina with one arm. He picks her up and bends her in half. He runs across the stage with her hanging on for dear life!) At the same time, technique is never sacrificed. Each lift, leap, and string of turns is done with fantastic power and energy, yet to my eye everything was finished absolutely perfectly!! In a way, this surprised me. In some YouTube clips of the Bolshoi, I've noticed incredible leaps with landings looked rough and sloppy. (I guess I'm thinking mainly of Ivan Vasiliev -- sorry, I hope that's not heresy!). Anyway, I wondered whether that was just the Bolshoi way. However, in this piece, it was absolutely not the case. This cast's technique was as clean as the elegant white staircases that anchored the spare set.
I've mentioned athleticism, but the choreography isn't all lifts and leaps. One example is the wedding dance of Bianca and Lucentio (Semyon Chudin). This pdd, which I would describe as organic, blissful, and almost spontaneous-feeling, garnered well-deserved bravos on both nights. In a different type of sequence, Petruchio tests to see if Katharina is awake by waving his hand over her head, and then her arm, each of which rises and descends slightly in response to his movements. And near the end of the piece, Katharina wakes up and holds her arms at her sides, observing how they look sort of clawlike. Then when she turns them over, they become graceful, beautiful hands.
I could go on, but I will start to wind this down. Suffice to say there are many wonderful moments in this ballet, and they all work together beautifully. Each great scene supports and enhances the one that follows. Everything is part of the narrative, which includes real drama and comedy. This is a comic ballet where people in the audience actually laugh! At other points, there is so much chaos and fury, if you didn't know that this was a Shakespearean comedy, you might think things were going in a bad direction. Much of this is due to Krysanova and Lantratov, who bring these characters to life with so much passion, it's hard for me to imagine anyone else performing these parts. Krysanova especially totally owns her character. She is unforgettable in this role.
I saw these performances on the new stage, which I thought was quite beautiful for a new theater. The sold-out auditorium was well-behaved on both nights -- I didn't notice any photography or other distracting behavior.
Both nights the cast enjoyed many curtain calls, and both nights they were joined by Maillot. The presence of the choreographer, dressed all in black except for his white sneakers, lent the ovations an added bit of excitement.
This was my first time seeing either the Bolshoi or a work by Maillot. What an incredible introduction!
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Indeed, thanks for the "I was there" narrative! I've been thinking about how we seem happy with some ballets existing in multiple versions, while we are quite snippy when choreographers take a swing at a heritage work. Aside from the Cranko, I don't really know of any other Shrews, but there seems to be very little concern with this new production of Maillot's that it deviates in some ways from the text.

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Indeed, thanks for the "I was there" narrative! I've been thinking about how we seem happy with some ballets existing in multiple versions, while we are quite snippy when choreographers take a swing at a heritage work. Aside from the Cranko, I don't really know of any other Shrews, but there seems to be very little concern with this new production of Maillot's that it deviates in some ways from the text.

I don't think it's comparable--whether or not there are other ballet adaptations of Taming of the Shrew. Taglioni's La Sylphide and Bournonville's--for me that's two versions and I would have no problem with a company doing Taglioni's if we had the choreography. (We don't though we do have Lacotte's imagining of it).

Cranko's Romeo and Juliet and Macmillan's and Lavrosky's (and Nureyev's and Ashton's and Ratmanksy's and Maillot's and Pink's and Araiza's and Neumeier's etc.)--just to stick to versions done to Prokofiev's score--this would be an example of people being happy with multiple versions, but it's not multiple versions of the same choreographic text at all, not even in the rather loose sense that Mckenzie and Martins are both doing versions of Petipa/Ivanov when they stage Swan Lake. It's just the same source material and the same score.

I don't think anyone objects in principle to a company doing one version of Romeo and Juliet or another...though people may have favorites and think a company should be doing version x or y. But what if one said one was staging Macmillan's and then redid one of the big pas de deux to make it sexier or because it suited the dancers better? Or, perhaps a more realistic notion, just cut some portions of Macmillan's crowd scenes because many critics seem to agree that they go on too long? That's bound to be more controversial and, in my opinion, should be because there is a choreographic text that is being claimed as the basis of the production.

By controversial I don't mean "bad" or that it should never happen, but something different seems to me at issue than is the case with different versions of a particular story that happens to draw from the same source material or even drawing the same title from that source material (eg Taming of the Shrew) or different ballets to the same score.

When there is a version of Bournonville's La Sylphide that revises and rechoreographs--whether you are for the changes or against them or neutral--the 'text' matters: when the Royal Danish Ballet in particular, does La Sylphide, Bournonville's choreography is at stake. Revising Bournonville's La Sylphide, while basing your work on it, is (I think) in that sense something different than Maillot doing a completely new version of Taming of the Shrew to a fresh (well, freshly assembled anyway) score...

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Thanks, everyone, for your comments! I hope all of you who want to can see it soon! I'd love to hear what more people think.

Sandik, was there something specific about the new interpretation that you didn't like, or which you struck you as questionable? I am just curious.

Just as a general reaction to your question about interpretations, my opinion is that it's very personal. If I love the original of something, and I don't think the re-imagining is well executed, then I tend to be down on it. If I don't feel particularly attached to the original work, or if I can appreciate the new work as being well done, then I'm all in favor of it. Just as an example, one of my favorite movies is "Blade Runner," which takes great liberties from its source material. I personally think the movie is better than the novel, though I also appreciate the novel. On the other hand, I love the novel "The Golden Compass" and I couldn't even go see the movie because from the small bits I saw in the trailer it looked wrong wrong wrong. That doesn't mean the movie is bad, and if other people liked it, I think that's great. But for me, I want my memory of the story to be of the novel only.

In the case of "Shrew," I've never seen another ballet interpretation of it, so I had no expectations. As for the play, it's been so long since I read it, I wasn't bothered by inconsistencies. And in fact, over time I've come to expect people taking liberties with Shakespeare. For this work alone, I can think of many "creative" interpretations. (I admit to liking "10 Things I Hate About You" and, from what I recall, the "Moonlighting" homage was pretty entertaining.) For that reason, I'm long past the point of expecting people to be faithful to Shakespeare's words. But again, I think it's very personal.

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Taking a detour, more not tight musings from the Met in HD, this time "Le Nozze di Figaro." Or not so much just "Nozze," but "Nozze" compared to "Barber of Seville," both of which use the Beaumarchais source materials, the Figaro plays. I've never read the originals, but from biographical details and commentary I've read, while "Le Mariage de Figaro" was blocked by a ban by Louis XVI until time and revisions caused the ban to be reversed, and "Le Barbier de Seville" was not, and presumably was less biting, Beaumarchais was enough of a political animal that I suspect those familiar with the play would have been disappointed in the political and social Disney-fication of the Rossini, even if they went away humming the tunes. Mozart clearly took a more political approach in the 1780's than Rossini did with the earlier play thirty years later, and opera buffa was a different kettle of fish in each of their hands.

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the political and social Disney-fication of the Rossini,

People are just coming up with such great phrases lately!

Sasark, I haven't seen all of Maillot's new Shrew, so cannot really speak to your question. My observation comes more from discussions we've had on this board about Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (the contention that it should not use that title, even if it is clearly stated in the promotional material that this is not a version of the original ballet but a new work using themes from the original), and the general reaction to Maillot's Romeo and Juliet. In that situation, there seemed to be an objection to any versions other than the Lavrovsky or MacMillan. The commentary wasn't really about how the ballet did or didn't work on its own, but how it failed to emulate those other, earlier versions.

I absolutely understand having a favorite version, and not really wanting to see/hear other options. Generally, if I love something, seeing other attempts at the same source material just makes it clearer to me what I value about my "favorite," but I know that's not a universal experience. I just think it's interesting that some works in the repertory seem to have this exclusive aura while others do not.

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I've just returned from Moscow, where I twice saw "The Taming of the Shrew," Maillot's new work for the Bolshoi. I attended on consecutive nights, seeing the same cast in all the principal parts.
I have so many positive things to say about these performances, I don't even know where to start!

I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed the trip and the performances! And thank you for this review - I'm hoping to see the ballet sometime soon, preferably live but I'll settle for a broadcast version.

I'm also glad you got to see Lantratov and Krysanova - two amazing performers! After seeing him as Crassus this summer, Lantratov is rapidly moving up my list of favorite dancers.

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Thanks for your comments, Swanilda, and for all your tips about visiting the Bolshoi! They were really helpful. I felt like I knew exactly what I was doing picking up my tickets and all that (I also went to the opera).

It's so cool that you lived in Moscow and were able to see this company regularly. I already want to go back!

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Admittedly I was not following critical reaction to this ballet very closely, but I am surprised more people didn’t take Maillot to task for making sexual intercourse the means of Katherine’s “taming.” It turns out that Kate’s personality flaws were actually a manifestation of sexual frustration, because they magically dispersed after a tumble in the hay with Petruchio. Macho conceit. :dry:

This is a less objectionable interpretation of the play?

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