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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 29 January 2007—The South African choreographer, John Cranko, who was invited to Stuttgart in 1960 to stage his Prince of the Pagodas, stayed there to develop a repertory that made the troupe the finest classical company in Germany. And while the city's history of dance dates back to court ballets performed there as early as 1609, its importance growing with first Noverre and then Taglioni as ballet master, it wasn't until the arrival of Cranko, who revitalized the troupe, that it became one of the world's leading companies.

Under Cranko's careful guidance, Marcia Haydée developed into a great dramatic ballerina and her partnership with Richard Cragun became legendary. The Brazilian star was his muse for a series of important and very popular full-length ballets, beginning in 1962 with his revised and wonderful version of Romeo and Juliet, followed by Onegin three years later, and The Taming of the Shrew in 1969. His untimely death at 46, from a heart attack while traveling back from the U.S., was a tremendous loss to the dance world.

Mikhail Kaniskin, Alexander Zaitsev, Stefan Stewart in The Taming of the Shrew
Photo: Sébastien Mathé 

The strong dramatic qualities of his works and detailed characterization encouraged the acting ability of his dancers, and emphasis was put, then as today, on interpreters with personality. Nowhere was this more evident than in the joyous performance of The Taming of the Shrew presented at the Palais Garnier in January.

Sue Jin Kang and Stuttgart Ballet in The Taming of the Shrew
Photo: Sébastien Mathé

Set to a score by Kurt–Heinz Stolze and with ravishing costumes by Elizabeth Dalton, a student of Nicholas Georgiadis, the staging is nevertheless a little out-dated today with its interminable changes of décor. Scenery is shifted around backstage while something is happening front-stage, but then, isn't that part of the charm?

The choreographer, however, gives a very good, eloquent reading of William Shakespeare's comic play where marriage is perceived as a war of the sexes. Famous in Padua for her fiery temperament, Kate is a woman who stands up to men; she's a far cry from the meek and submissive wife men sought, but her father has decreed that she must marry before her younger sister. However, the sister in question, Bianca, has three suitors who decide that a husband must be found for the "shrew", thus clearing the way for their designs on the youthful Bianca. And thus it is that they discover the rough and boastful Petruchio, come to the city in search of a wealthy bride.

Sue Jin Kang Filip Barankiewicz in The Taming of the Shrew
Photo: Sébastien Mathé

It's very difficult to translate a comedy, and the ballet, a blend of classical dance and pantomime which was most enjoyable, had, nonetheless, moments which were heavy going and even tedious, possibly due to weak casting. A particular scene, where Bianca is in the garden with her suitors, Gremio, Hortensio, and the inoffensive student, Lucentio caused problems because the three men were technically poor. It is not good enough to be only competent when dancing Cranko's choreography.

However, this was more than made up for by Alicia Amatriain and Jiri Jelinek who made a superb central couple, full of life and, in the case of Jelinek, bursting with good humour and bonhomie. It's not an easy task to follow in the footsteps of Marcia Haydée, but Amatriain's youthful charm and freshness in the role of the rebellious Kate was a joy to watch. Her haughty dismissal of unwelcome attention, her disbelief in Petruchio's motives and not least, her credible and intelligent swings of mood as the ballet progressed, allied with a sure technique in the two sweepingly beautiful pas de deux, won the audience's heart as surely as Petruchio's. She knew that in accepting him, she had everything to win. Jelinek, an athletically handsome, quick-witted and thoroughly likeable Petruchio, is actually quite taken with the fiery Kate, and proves to be more than her match.  She is of course transformed into an obedient and loving wife, a role she fills with delight.

Sue Jin Kang Filip Barankiewicz in The Taming of the Shrew
Photo: Sébastien Mathé

Although the Anglo-Saxon sense of comedy isn't the same as the Latin, most of the comic scenes were well accepted as everything ended happily for these two superb artists, for this legendary company, and for the spectators, who left the theatre wreathed in smiles.  It was all a little ridiculous, but most people just joined in the fun!

What was not fun was the Orchestre Colonne, valiantly conducted by James Tuggle, musical director of the Ballet of Stuttgart. Their playing, particularly during the opening overture, was abysmal and at the end several members scuttled off even before the curtain was lowered.

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at

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