Review: In Bolshoi’s Ballet, No Shrew to Tame

Shakespeare’s play, also adapted by Cole Porter as “Kiss Me, Kate” and by John Cranko for a hit 1969 ballet, has long been contentious. The hero, Petruchio, boasts that he is taming Katharina, his shrewish wife (he calls her Kate), by starving and bullying and depriving her of sleep. True, Shakespeare creates drama in every play by setting himself a drastic problem — the fairy queen enamored of an ass, the Scottish king who must commit crimes to keep his throne — but this one and “The Merchant of Venice” (in which Shylock the Jew is punished by being made to become Christian) are the two that have become, understandably, most difficult for modern tastes.

Yet Kate and Petruchio are both the play’s most robust and unorthodox characters. Many have argued that theirs will be one of the few happy marriages in Shakespeare (who, anyway, tells the whole story as a play within another play). I’ve seen several productions that have made Shakespeare’s original succeed by showing both its psychological subtlety and its central dramatic difficulty. Mr Maillot, however, takes away both.

Mr. Maillot sets his ballet to a collage of music by Dmitri Shostakovich (the best part of the show). The dance-drama sections come as if by clockwork; the showy display and lyrical outpourings feel like tacked-on afterthoughts. At the end, to Shostakovich’s famous but still surprising setting of “Tea for Two,” the story’s four newlywed husbands require their brides to mime polite tea-drinking. Only Katharina (Ekaterina Krysanova) obliges. It’s unclear why the other three brides won’t play the game. Thus Mr. Maillot bypasses Shakespeare’s far more objectionable marital task: Katharina is the only bride of three, not four, couples who sets her hand beneath her husband’s foot. But here, who cares? It’s only tea.

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Olga Smirnova…

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