iain and elisha

Iain Mackay as Petruchio and Elisha Willas as Katherina. Pictures: Andrew Ross

The Taming of the Shrew

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

SO who said ballet can’t be fun? Shakespeare’s celebrated comedy is a delightfully light-hearted romp in the hands of Birmingham Royal Ballet.

It is a funny - laugh out loud at times - with some knockabout slapstick but this is an Elizabethan romcom remember, so there are some beautiful tender moments, with two exquisite pas de deux.

This is the play that gave us Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate and in this notable John Cranko choreographed 1969 version the tale is simplified to its essentials with three suitors, the foppish Hortensio, danced in rakish style by Chi Cao, the dashing student Lucentio, danced with youthful authority by Brandon Lawrence and the old roué Gremio, danced delightfully by Rory Mackay, who shows iain and Elishaa real bent for comedy. Indeed the trio are a splendid comic turn throughout.

They are the would-be suitors of Bianca, danced delightfully by Jenna Roberts, her second act pas de deux with Lucentio one of the highlights. She is the pretty, vain daughter of Baptista, a wealthy gentleman of Padua, but Baptista declares Bianca’s hand is not on offer until he has found a suitable husband for her older sister Katherina.

With this full nelson I the wed

There is only one problem, Katherina is both pretty and pretty vile; an Olympic standard shrew; a clawing, spitting, biting, fighting hell cat.

So our three comic suitors find themselves a patsy, Petruchio, a handsome gentleman of few means, which become even less when, tired as a newt in the local hostelry, he is stripped and robbed by a pair of ladies of negotiable virtue, danced by Delia Mathews and Angela Paul

So with just his long johns to his name, he is persuaded by the three hopefuls that a successful courtship of Katherina would solve all his money problems, without mentioning, of course, it would also remove a rather large obstacle in their romantic pursuits.

One advantage Petruchio has is that Baptista is not so much bothered about the standing of her suitors as their stomach for the nuclear level battle of the sexes that will ensue. Petruchio looks perfect for the part (i.e. he seems willing) so Katherina is married off before he can change his mind. The priest,Valentin Olovyannikov, looking like Jeremy Corbyn's long lost cousin.

Iain Mackay is a fine dancer, making it all look so easy and effortless and the role of Petruchio gives him a chance to act as well, as he slowly tames his new bride, or she tames him, to end with a most delicate and tender pas de deux, quite beautiful to watch, but it is Elisha Willis as Katherina who steals the show.

For many in the audience it will be their last sight of BRB’s diminutive Australian principal, who retires from dancing atelisha the end of the current season, going out at the top. And it was a performance to remember and savour.

She petulantly stomped her way through the first act, lashing out at anyone who came near – I suspect even the orchestra were ducking whenever she approached the edge of the stage. Fists and kicks flying, scowls and snarls everywhere, this was a woman you married at your peril.

A delightful performance from the soon to retire Elisha Willis

Tamed – the clue is in the title - we see her tender side, although she can still instil fear in her sister, now married to Lucentio, and his two rivals for her hand Gemio and Hortensio, tricked into marrying Petruchio’s prostitute robbers by Lucentio, all being fair in love and war.

All you can say after a performance like that is thanks for the memories.

The music by Kurt-Heinz Stolze is after the baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti, which means plenty of harpsichord and horns which after a rather jolly overture keeps up a cheery pace throughout under Royal Ballet Sinfonia guest conductor Wolfgang Heinz while the scenery and costumes of Susan Benson’s design, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada, are suitably sumptuous.

This is the first staging of the ballet by BRB and comes as part of its season commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and from the audience reaction on the opening night, it will not be the last.

BRB, incidentally, are taking the production to Bristol Hippodrome at the end of the month, the first visit to the city in 15 years, and Bristol, you are in for a treat.

The taming of the shrew runs to Saturday, 18 June with a Shakespeare triple bill running from 22-25 June.

Roger Clarke

16-06-16 

Birmingham Royal Ballet

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