NEW YORK—The Bolshoi Ballet, now in its 241st season, has brought one of its most acclaimed new productions, “The Taming of the Shrew,” to the Lincoln Center Festival. The ballet has won awards around the world and, as evidenced by the standing ovation at the end of the performance, the audience at the sold-out performance at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater apparently agreed with that assessment.
Based on Shakespeare’s comedy, the ballet was created for the Russian troupe by French choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot. Maillot has been choreographer and director of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo since 1993, and this is his first ballet for a company other than his own since he attained that position. This also marks the Bolshoi’s first time having a foreign choreographer create an evening-length ballet.
The evening begins with the Housekeeper (Victoria Litvinova), who looks more like a movie star, alone on stage, flirting with the conductor and miming along with the announcement to turn off all cellphones.
While the ballet’s plot generally follows the play, Maillot takes some liberties to make the work less abrasive to modern audiences. Katharina (Kristina Kretova) is not so much tamed as she is matched by the rough character Petruchio (Denis Savin), and there is a strong erotic attraction between the two.
The action begins in the house of the wealthy Baptista (Karim Abdullin), where the servants are making light of the domestic situation. Baptista’s younger daughter Bianca (Anastasia Stashkevich) is sweet and has suitors but, according to tradition, she cannot marry before her older sister, the fiery Katherina.
Of her three suitors, Bianca likes Lucentio (Artem Ovcharenko). Hoping that one of the suitors will be interested in Katherina, Baptista brings his eldest daughter in to meet them, but to no avail. Katherina doesn’t like the suitors and they feel the same about her. One of them, however, thinks of his boorish friend Petruchio, who might be attracted to the young woman’s dowry.
Petruchio turns up and he and Katherina engage in a battle of the sexes until she finally relents and accepts his marriage proposal.
Bianca’s suitors woo her with an assortment of gifts, from an expensive necklace from Gremio (Denis Medvedev) to that of Hortensio (Alexander Smoliyaninov), who is so conceited that he thinks he doesn’t need to offer anything else. Lucentio brings the surprising gift of a collection of poems. Other women swoop in to win the hearts of Bianca’s rejects. The Housekeeper goes after Gremio and the Widow (Anna Balukova) pursues Hortensio.
Petruchio shows up late for his own wedding and tries to give Katharina Gremio’s necklace but she slaps his face for the affront. He drags her off as the wedding party continues without them.
The second act begins with the honeymooning couple crossing a forbidding forest on their way to Petruchio’s home. Bandits attack but Petruchio scares them off.
His house is much less comfortable than what Katharina is used to, but they ultimately go to bed. Under covers, the audience is led to believe the marriage is a success.
The next day, they receive an invitation to attend Bianca’s and Lucentio’s wedding. Katharina and Petruchio appear stylishly dressed and, to everyone’s amazement, seem happily married.
The Bolshoi dancers were technically perfect, and also conveyed the wit of Maillot’s choreography. The music, a collection of pieces by Dmitri Shostakovich, was performed with style by the New York City Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Igor Dronov. The biggest surprise was the composer’s playful setting of Vincent Youmans’s “Tea for Two.”
The set, which features a central staircase that separates at various points, is by Ernest Pignon-Ernest and the lighting is by Dominique Drillot. The modern dress costumes are by the choreographer’s son, Augustin Maillot.
“The Taming of the Shrew” ballet is about two hours (with one intermission) but is so fast paced that the time passes quickly.
‘The Taming of the Shrew’
David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center
20 Lincoln Center Plaza
Running Time: 2 hours (one intermission)
Closes: July 30
Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.