John Cranko's "Taming of the Shrew" takes two long acts of slapstick to tell its tale. On the surface, the action bubbled along in a lively way last night at the Kennedy Center as the Stuttgart Ballet mimed the first of several performances of this movement play. The work, though, falls far short not only of Shakespeare but also of being a real ballet.

Cranko was certainly clever in devising ways to show the tantrums, pranks and tentative smoochings of his shrew and her trainer, but one act would have been quite enough. It's probably the composer's fault that no really sustained dancing develops. Kurt-Heinz Stolze, in inflating Domenico Scarlatti scores, has created a great stream of background sound. Not until the final curtain can the characters step aside from the situation for a reverie that would give them a chance to really dance, and even in this final pas de deux the music, barely keeps the choreography afloat.

Marcia Haydee, as the shrew, is nasty but never mean. She makes Katherine a wonderfully adorable character. Richard Cragun, as her Petruchio, acted with greater depth in this comic role than in the serious parts he played earlier this season. The performer, though, seemed quite unaware of the implications of the "chauvinist" ending, when it is shown that every woman is a shrew. Haydee, Cragun and the other fine Stuttgart dance actors let this moment slip by without illumination.

As dancers, the Stuttgarters are stronger than two years ago but have yet to develop a real balletic - as opposed to mimetic - movement style. There is no reason why they should imitate the high, articulated carriage of New York City Ballet, the velvet elegance of Royal British dancers, the bounce of the Royal Danes, the flamboyant flow of the Bolshoi or the sensuality of Bejart's company. But there ought to be a goal to strive for. It need not become a mold.