In the local premiere last night of the Joffrey Ballet's staging of John Cranko's "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Kennedy Center Opera House, the shrew suddenly found herself minus her tamer, due to an on-stage accident the audience was scarcely aware of at the time. Gregory Huffman, in the role of Petruchio, had just launched into the opening sequence of leaps in a solo at the start of the wedding scene which closes Act I, when he hunched over and hobbled off to the wings. Somehow he did it all so much in character--in a scene crowded with lively detail--and everything happened so swiftly that only someone well acquainted with the ballet could have realized what occurred.

Talk about troupers! With Huffman gone, Beatriz Rodriguez, as Kate, had to play out the scene without her spouse and dancing partner--she and her co-principals and the entire ensemble improvised so skillfully it all looked like part of the script. At the delayed start of Act II, it was announced that Huffman had injured himself, and would be replaced by Jerel Hilding. Hilding had danced the role previously elsewhere--he was already scheduled to appear as Petruchio in tonight's cast--but never before opposite Rodriguez. Under the circumstances he acquitted himself most brilliantly--the couple won a special cheer for an added, informal embrace during the ballet's final scene.

Huffman, one of Joffrey's foremost dancers, had made an appealingly suave and roguish hero before the accident. He was taken to Georgetown University Hospital; afterwards, a company spokesman reported that he'd suffered a torn Achilles' tendon that would require surgery, for which he will return to New York.

Miraculously, the comical chemistry between Kate and Petruchio seemed undisturbed. Hilding took up where Huffman left off in a slightly more robust, swaggering style, but with not a jot less conviction. As for Rodriguez, her steel-tipped technique served her well in this calisthenic role, and she made Kate both a holy terror and sympathetic all at once. Other highlights included the dancing, individually and together, of James Canfield as Lucentio and Patricia Miller as Bianca; their dulcet Act II pas de deux drew well-deserved applause.

"Shrew," created in 1969, is a staple of the Stuttgart Ballet; Joffrey's new production last October made this the first full-dress evening-length ballet in the company's repertoire. Apart from a handful of effective set pieces and tricky ensembles, there's not much to it choreographically--Shakespeare's battle of wits becomes a series of vaudevillian sight gags--but its broad humor, in Georgette Tsinguirides staging, suits the troupe well and their obvious relish in performance is contagious. Elizabeth Dalton's handsomely unified and fittingly lighthearted sets and costumes are a fine enhancement.