Kicking off its 2022-23 season at the Long Center, Ballet Austin offers a revival of “The Taming of the Shrew,” choreographed by Stephen Mills and originally commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2004.
The production offered both a chance to see one of Mills’ popular Shakespearean ballets (others include “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), and to s tackling the social issues sparked by one of Shakespeare’s greatest ballets. controversial texts.
The world of ballet is brilliantly comic and burlesque, drawing inspiration from 17th century Italian commedia dell’arte theater and underscored by the music of Italian composers Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti and Vincenzo Tommasini. The corps de ballet, called Commedia Men and Commedia Women, are costumed in long-nosed zanni masks and form a loose chorus of servant figures. Geometric presentation sets and vaguely 17th-century costumes in bright colors reinforce that the ballet takes place in a theatrical fantasy world.
Fittingly, the characters have big personalities. Sweet and eminently graceful, Bianca (Courtney Holland) flirts with her three suitors Lucentio (Leighton Taylor), Gremio (Ian J. Bethany) and Hortensio (Paul Martin), who try to impress her with jumps and win her over with kisses. She twirls between them without naming any particular man as her favorite.
Chelsea Marie Renner dances a Kate who is truly a terror, immediately contrasting Bianca by smashing a bottle over a servant’s head on her first entrance. Her flat steps as she rushes onto the stage separate her from the light movements danced by her sister.
When Petruchio (James Fuller) is introduced, he’s like an athletic playboy with more swagger than class. He tries to seduce a pair of women in a tavern, but they are immune to his charms and run away with his gold instead.
When, inspired by Bianaca’s suitors, he decides to woo Kate, it leads to an abundance of physical comedy. She tosses him a bottle, an exercise ball, and a chair from backstage, but Petruchio is up for the challenge of winning her affection, and they eventually agree to marry.
The first act is lively and fun, as the characters, essentially all clowns, tumble and have fun with each other, engaging in harmless fights. But in act two, the relationship changes.
Petruchio is late to the wedding and an injured Kate participates in the ceremony, but not before nearly backing down several times. When she returns home with Petruchio, he plays with her, waves the food brought by the servants before she can eat, and presents her with a new dress but then takes away the gift.
Although it sounds like a game for Petruchio, it’s hard not to sympathize with new wife Kate. Although the choreography features moments of physical comedy, the comedic vibe is lost as the power dynamic between Kate and Petruchio appears increasingly unbalanced. They finish the dance together, but it’s unclear if Kate submits or if a truce has been established.
In their act three pas de deux, Kate wears the dress she had previously been denied, suggesting that a reunification has taken place between the couple, but it appears less lively than in her first choreography. His movements are fluid and controlled, more mature perhaps, but it’s as if a part of his personality has been lost. While she’s a partner in the dance, it’s an elegant but unsatisfying look at the state of their relationship. Even the brilliant ensemble performance at Bianca’s wedding and the burst of confetti that ends the ballet can’t overcome this sense of unease with Kate’s status.
Mills notes in the program that the title is “charged in so many ways” and says the ballet “celebrates Kate”, whom he sees as unafraid to wield her power, rather than belittle her like a shrew. . Ultimately, in her ballet, dance is masterfully used to tell a story, but it’s a story that, 430 years after Shakespeare’s play, though rooted for Kate, still doesn’t find easy happiness for she.