The Taming of the shrew – the quarrel of lovers…
Shakespeare is a bottomless well of inspiration, which applies to ballet adaptations as well. The Taming of the Shrew, though largely based on verbal humour and witty conversations, is much-loved by choreographers. The Czech ballet community is familiar with the master ballet version by John Cranko to keyboard works by Domenico Scarlatti arranged and orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolzewhich, which was staged at the Prague National Theatre fifteen years ago. Genuinely Czech adaptations have also been made of this play. The original music composition by Oldřich Flosman was adapted for stage by Věra Untermüllerová in Liberec in the early 1960’s, and by Daniel Wiesner in Brno in the mid-1980’s. This play of Shakespeare’s has been very popular in recent years too. Last year the title was staged by Robert Balogh in Olomouc, to music score consisting of Edward Elgar’s compositions. Marika Hanousková used a collage of pieces by Russian composers for her version of The Taming of the Shrew in Ústí nad Labem. For the recent Pilsen premiere, a brand-new music libretto has been composed by Jan Kučera.
Kučera is an active Czech composer and the score for The Taming of the Shrew is, after Three Musketeers for Ostrava ballet company, his second big work for dancers. Kučera’s music serves well the choreographer’s intention – it is uncomplicated, brisk and danceable in the good sense of the word. Unlike Three Musketeers, it is colourful and merges inspirations from various music styles. The jazz inspiration is easily recognizable. Kučera and the choreographer Alena Pešková agreed on the overall grotesque character of the piece. The music is also playful – at one point, the composer and conductor in one lets the orchestra members sing. The choreography and the music together push the story forward in a bustling pace, running without a pause. Pešková enjoys the rare opportunity to have a live orchestra at her disposal. But the orchestra must beware of props falling off the stage and in one scene, a short mime conversation happens between Petruchio and the conductor.
Alena Pešková has clearly found herself in The Taming of the Shrew. She treats the subject matter as timeless and sets the story – judging by the costumes and props – in hot-blooded, sun-lit South (not necessarily Padua) of the mid-20th century. It resembles Goldoni’s Italy at times, or Latin America, namely when a Mexican-looking band appear on stage with their typical sombreros. The dance vocabulary of the piece is inspired by popular dances of the last century – such as various kinds of spontaneous swing dance, or tango in one of the taming duets. Just don’t slow down!
Pešková has selected the main themes and figures out of the incredibly rich story and managed to define their characters and types, also thanks to the company’s excellent dancers. Jarmila Hruškociová is the perfect impersonator of the tameless Katherina. She is an unstoppable shrew, uncontrollable element. During an argument with her younger sister Bianca, she tortures her and ties her up with ropes. Petruchio is no better. Since his first appearance on stage he is presented as a well-built dandy who has no time for courtship. Looking at his watch all the time, he does not want to miss any divertissement. The young Gaëtan Pires dances this part with surprising maturity!
The choreographer succeeded in translating the dialogues of the two leading characters into dance language. She narrates and explains through duets and tells the story with pure dance and mime expressive tools, making it understandable, yet not too descriptive.
Other characters and motifs are also well rounded – for example the relationship between Bianca (Sara Aurora Antikainen’s northern type is in sharp contrast to the lively Katherina) and Lucenzio (Justin Rimke), Miroslav Hradil’s grotesque father Battisto Minola or the minor figure of the Priest, performed vigorously by Jiří Žalud. Hortensio dances a witty courtship duet with the Widow who comes on stage with a live dog. The first half of the ballet rushes forth like storm water. Funny gags alternate with serious dance numbers. The other half reveals a couple of weak points but the finale - exemplifying a happy partnership that requires tactics as well as women’s weapons - crowns the whole piece. The Taming of the Shrew is one of Alena Pešková’s best works so far. Since entertaining audiences is not an easy task at all!
Written from the premiere held on 17 November 2018, at the JK Tyl Theatre in Pilsen.
The Taming of the Shrew
Music: Jan Kučera
Libretto, choreography and direction: Alena Pešková
Scenography: Richard Pešek
Costumes: Aleš Valášek
Lighting design: Jakub Sloup
Premiere: 17 November 2018