Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It's funny, easy to like and brilliantly stageworthy. Ballerina Marcia Haydee and her partner Richard Cragun are uproarioulsy endearing as Kate and Petruchio. And the company performs the work with unremitting zest and a gleeful freshness untarnished by the passage of years since the ballet's premiere in 1969.
I'm referring to "Taming of the Shrew," John Cranko's farcical gloss on Shakespeare, which the Stuttgart Ballet presented at the Kennedy Center Wednesday night for the first time during the company's current engagement. The audience seemed delighted with it, as most audiences are.
However churlish it may seem to sound a sour note after all this, I'm bound to report truthfully that I cannot share in the enthusiasm. "Taming of the Shrew" strikes me as a ballet for those who like everything about ballet but the dancing.
I don't really mean to cast aspersions. I see nothing wrong in a theater piece with musical trappings and balletic trimmings. Cranko had amaster's touch in the theater, and if he wished to indulge this talent in a lighearted vehicle of considerable popular appeal, all to the company's good.
It all depends on what you're looking for, and "Shrew" is not it, in my own case.
It also should be noted that the ballet has precious little in common with Shakespeare's play aside from the underlying conceit. Shakespeare's comedy rests on puns, not pratfalls. His Kate trades wits, not punches, with Petruchio. Take away her brains, and Kate is just another hellcat. Insofar as Shakespeare is concerned, the ballet is actually the shaming of the true.
It won't do to insist that drama is a verbal art when dance is kinetic, and that Cranko has simply transplanted the play's drollery into appropriate baletic terms. Most of the humor of Cranko's "Taming of the Shrew" is not choreographic - it's plain old slapstick.
Like everything else Cranko created for the Stuttgart, however, the piece is beautifully tailored to the performers. Haydee emerges as an expert comedienne, ringing so many changes on her sulky spitfire characterization you hardly notice how little she has to work with.
Cragun is no less adept as her swaggering swain, and the dancing does give him the chance to display his still bedazzling triple turns in the air.
Similarly, in Wednesday night's cast, Reid Anderson, Mark Neal and Barry Ingham were perfectly cast as Bianca's suitors, and Anderson and Neal danced impressively in their respective solos. Slyviane Bayard's Bianca made a fine, sprited foil for Kate, though the lyrical side of the role was shortchanged.
The pas deux in Act II, Scene 3, in which Petruchio tosses Kate around like a rag doll and finally tames the shrew, is the one spot in which the choreography rises to an ingenious fusion of wit and characterization. The score by Kurtz-Heinz Stolze, however, loosely based on Domenico Scarlatti, is a continual disappointment - it's functional, but musically trivial throughout.