Sunday, June 14, 2015

Houston Ballet - The Taming of the Shrew

(Connor Walsh and Melody Mennite as Petruchio and Katherina; image property of the Houston Ballet.)

What a lovely end to the ballet season! I didn't manage to "prep" as much as I would have liked for this production of The Taming of the Shrew -- I would have liked to watch one of the film versions or listened to the play ahead of time, and I missed the recent ballet talk in which some of the dancers spoke about their roles in this season's productions of Shakespearean ballets. Any one of those things would have enriched my experience of seeing this ballet again (I saw it in 2011 as well), but it was still fine in the end, because if ever there was a ballet where you can tell precisely what is going on at all times, this is it.

The Clif Notes version is that the pretty Bianca (Yuriko Kajiya in the June 13 performance that we saw) has many suitors, but cannot marry until her older sister, the feisty Katherina (Jessica Collado) gets married herself. And that seems unlikely, because Katherina is clearly ready to fight off every man she encounters. In desperation, Bianca's three most ardent suitors team up to bribe the oft-drunk Petruchio (Linnar Looris) to woo Katherina. Although it takes a while, Petruchio manages to wear Katherina down, and she becomes the model wife. And this, of course, allows Bianca to marry her favorite beau, Lucentio (Ian Casady).

OK, feminist it's not, and there really should be better ways to deal with your new bride than half-starving and half-freezing her to death. But the tone of the ballet is so light and funny that I couldn't waste time being offended, and the story was written a while back, after all. And in any case, I choose to interpret the ballet version in the Moonlighting episode kind of way; Katherina may have learned how better to deal with and (gasp!) care for people, but she will still be Katherina, and theirs will not be a she-who-obeys-mindlessly marriage.

In my mind, The Taming of the Shrew, believed to have been originally written between 1590 and 1592, has just the right amount of "story" for a full-length ballet; it's neither too simplistic nor too complicated. There's room for "exhibition" dances -- after all, all three of Bianca's suitors must woo her separately, and some of the funniest moments are when Gremio (Rhodes Elliott) and Hortensio (Chun Wai Chan) dance, one attempting to "sing" (represented by the piccolo) and the other playing a lute, which Katherina eventually smashes over his head. I'm also a sucker for wedding crowd scenes, which in this production are nicely set off by the costumes and the pretty sets (by Susan Benson) that often reminded me of rose damask.

Unsurprisingly, the dancing was wonderful. Jessica Collado seemed very much at home in this comedic lead role, while Yuriko Kajiya had the pretty girlishness one would expect from Bianca. Linnar Looris also nailed the body language during his "drunken" dancing.

There's not a lot more to say about this ballet; it's hardly deep, after all. But it was pretty and fun and full of clever choreography. There are several more performances of The Taming of the Shrew next weekend of (June 19-21). I highly recommend it.

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