Just a few days after winning three prestigious Golden Mask Awards, (equivalent of our Laurence Olivier Awards), the Bolshoi Ballet was up in St Petersburg to show off its winning production led by the two stars who had taken the top prizes for their performances in The Taming of the Shrew. Choreographed by Frenchman Jean-Christophe Maillot especially for the Russian company, the ballet premièred in the Bolshoi Theatre last summer. At the invitation of the Dance Open festival, the company came north to St Petersburg to perform it for the first time outside of Moscow, with principal dancers, Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov as Katarina and Petruchio, who demonstrated exactly why they had won the coveted awards. Individually superb in technique and characterisation, they set the level high for the other dancers, showing the Bolshoi Ballet off in a new light. The production is great fun and fast paced, and it was obvious that everyone enjoyed dancing in it.

Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov in <i>The Taming of the Shrew</i> © Evgeny Yurshin
Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov in The Taming of the Shrew
© Evgeny Yurshin
Maillot’s choreography is slick, subtle and witty – and often simple, and filled with surprises. The innovative set, by Ernest Pignon-Ernest, is starkly white, with an elegant central staircase that separates for varied uses, establishing a backdrop that enhances the feverish activities going on in front of it. The lighting by Dominique Drillot is outstanding, bringing the sunshine of Padua to the stage and, in one of the ‘taming’ scenes, creating mysterious 3-D mosaics on the staircase. The costumes by Augustin Maillot are all white and black, with the exception of Bianca’s electric blue skirt and Kate’s initial shot silk green dress.

Using an eclectic score of 25 works by Shostakovich, the ballet moves swiftly from Kate’s frenzied ‘shrew’ scenes, where she spits out venom at the men suitors in seemingly uncontrolled and vicious actions, and in the complex and challenging duets with Petruchio, where she slides under, over and around him at speed; to the peaceful and lyrical pas de deux (to The Gadfly) between Bianca and Lucentio. The ballet finishes with an extraordinary rendition of ‘Tea for Two’ from his Jazz Suite, where surprisingly, instead of dancing a snazzy turkey trot, the cast take it in turns to mime different ways of drinking tea! (Sadly on first night, the recording jumped a couple of times leaving the quick-witted dancers to adapt their dancing to the next scene.)

Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov © Evgeny Yurshin
Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov
© Evgeny Yurshin
The first surprise moment comes before the curtain is even raised. A beautiful young lady, in tight black Capri pants, an off-the-shoulder feathery top, and very high heels, walks on and surveys the audience (very Pina Bausch). Satisfied, she sits on the floor and swaps her high heels for pink pointe shoes, luxuriating in stretching high her long luscious legs as she fits them. When she’s finished, she looks out at the audience again while the stage manager’s "no photography, or recordings and, mobiles must be switched off,” announcements are made. Then she rises and, after flashing her eyes at the audience, ‘lifts’ the curtain on a bright, bleached white stage. Anna Tikhomirova’s role is 'The Housekeeper', though she becomes more of a circus ring master, directing much of the action throughout the ballet, while dancing with great joy, elegance and lightness – yet showing she can also pitch a punch like the others when someone gets in her way!

Suitors to the pretty young Bianca line up, but she must wait until her sister Katherina is wooed and won – and that’s no easy task for any of the men who are terrified of being around her. Krysanova is amazing in this role. Characterisation is shown in her breakneck athletic dancing –kicking, fighting, chasing off all of the men – which never lets up. She also proves herself a witty comedian in these scenes where she has control over everyone. And her transformation from headstrong shrew to submissive wife is brilliantly defined.

© Evgeny Yurshin
© Evgeny Yurshin
Enter Petruchio, large as life, unkempt with wild dishevelled hair and wearing a shaggy, hairy coat. Needing the money offered for Katherina’s hand, he accepts the challenge and thus begins the ‘taming.’ Vladislav Lantratov is a tall young man, who has often been seen as a gentle, handsome prince figure with little acting skills in classical roles. Now as Petruchio, he has never been better. Here he reveals new sides to his talent, showing himself a natural comic and rogue in the role. He danced with easy-style power and good-naturedly force, strutting as if he owned the world, smirking at Katharina’s attempts to block all his efforts, and giving her back as much as she gives him, up to the point finally where he recognises she is about to submit.

Anastasia Stashkevich made a pretty and perky Bianca showing good acting skills and graceful dancing – when not in conflict with her sister. Then, she was as feisty as her. Semyon Chudin, a classical dancer with a beautiful line and grace, performed her lover, Lucentio. Their duet was lyrical and light with some lovely lifts and swirls.

The company's men were given plenty of opportunities to show off their full-bloodied Bolshoi training, with Maillot giving them high flying leaps and fast turns to add to the hustle and bustle on stage. The women were just as spirited, prancing on in short full fluffy tutus like show horses, and joining in the action with gusto. The production flowed well, despite the music flaws, and left one happily breathless with its continuous circus-like action, which, as Maillot says, is neither pure classical nor contemporary. This was the new-look Bolshoi and it certainly suits the company.