BWW Review: The Bolshoi's Inscrutable Retelling of Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
On the evening of Wednesday, July 26th 2017 at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater, the most exciting moment during the Bolshoi Ballet's performance of choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot's ham-handed retelling of the plot of Shakespeare's rollicking comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, was a false fire alarm that sent many audience members scrambling for the exits. The dancers gamely carried on, as noted later in an excellent curtain speech by Lincoln Center Festival Director Nigel Redden, who congratulated them for dancing "impeccably" in spite of the scare.
The dancegoers had gradually filtered back in after being reassured that there was no fire, yet the plodding pace of the plot seemed even more laborious in contrast to the brief respite afforded by the real life drama that had just ensued. Why tinker with Shakespeare? The Bard knew what he was doing. Leave well enough alone!
Oh, and why did the performance begin with a ballerina, in the role of the Housekeeper, seated on the apron in front of the closed curtain as she took off her street shoes and put on her pointe shoes? I have no idea. The magic of story ballets is the telling of tales using movement without any words. In this case, the tale was decidedly not told.
That said, the dancing was superb and the mélange of music by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich was a rollicking delight - including the surprise ending, Shostakovich's orchestration of "Tea for Two" from the 1925 musical No, No Nanette. The orchestration is also known as "Tahiti Trot." (Full disclosure: I did not know these quirky facts until I did some research when I got back to my desk. During the performance, I was gobsmacked when I heard the familiar tune of "Tea for Two". )
Once I realized that trying to comprehend the story line was a futile distraction from the pleasure of watching the Bolshoi dancers and listening to the New York City Ballet Orchestra's fine rendering of the music, I gave myself over to enjoying the rest of the evening. In retrospect, I'm wondering why the company brought this ballet to our shores. Perhaps the intent was to show how inventive the troupe's repertoire is in the post-Soviet era. If so, there surely must have been more felicitous choices available than this one.
But enough carping about the story line and onward to mentions of some positive aspects of the production. The set design by Ernest Pignon-Ernest is a cleverly minimalist collection of pieces, including a staircase, that the dancers themselves rearranged throughout the performance. As for the costumes by Augistin Maillot, most of them were appealing. The exception was an unflattering long-sleeved white top worn by Olga Smirnova as Bianca.
The dancers, not surprisingly, gave first-rate performances. Ekaterina Krysanova in the role of Kate showed that she is both a world-class technician and a decent actress. Vladislav Lantratov as Petruchio overdid his drunken scene, but made up for that with his dancing at other times. For that matter, all of the men were high-flying wonders. The ladies as Maidservants weren't given much to do overall, but they were a treat to see in any case.
Even so, the Bolshoi was vastly more impressive earlier in the Lincoln Center Festival season when the dancers performed the "Diamonds" closer of George Balanchine's masterpiece, Jewels, a historic event during which the Bolshoi shared the stage with the Paris Opera Ballet in "Emeralds" and the New York City Ballet in "Rubies". (See my BWW review of Jewels here.) I'm glad I had the opportunity to see the Bolshoi at its best rather than only seeing the iconic company in the limping production of The Taming of the Shrew.
The Bolshoi's The Taming of the Shrew continues at the Koch Theater through Sunday, July 30th. If you're willing to ignore the scrambled and uninspired plot in order to see some magnificent dancing, hurry on over to Lincoln Center before the end of the run.
Photo by Jack Devant