Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Taming of the Shrew for the Bolshoi Ballet borrows its plot from Shakespeare but that’s about it. If you went to the show expecting high class entertainment, this would be a disappointment. If it were a film, I’d say Maillot’s Shrew is more of a trashy Franco-Russian Rom-Com with literary pretensions than an art film. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Not everything is or even should try to be edifying. I enjoy some lowbrow hijinks as much as the next person. I guess my reservation is in dropping Shakespeare’s name to draw an audience and then substituting something lesser. Briefly, Baptista must marry off his disagreeable daughter Katharina before he will consent to his younger daughter Bianca getting married. She’s rough trade and she abuses all her suitors until Petruchio comes along and proves to be her match in crass behavior. That leaves Bianca free to pursue her own match with Lucentio and then it’s a free for all as everyone else hooks up. It has moments of fun along with rock solid dancing by a surprisingly small cast for a Bolshoi production.

A. Belyakov, A. Tikhomirova, D. Bochkova and D. Khokhlova in <i>The Taming of the Shrew</i> © Mikhail Logvinov
A. Belyakov, A. Tikhomirova, D. Bochkova and D. Khokhlova in The Taming of the Shrew
© Mikhail Logvinov

Kristina Kretova was easily the best of the actors with her portrayal of Katharina. She was the most amusing of the dancers when it came to the pratfalls involved in abusing the hopeful suitors. Denis Savin, as Petruchio, was borderline cartoonish with his dancing and acting. Anastasia Stashkevich was engaging as the ingenue, Bianca, and she impressed with her huge grands jetés. Artem Ovcharenko played Lucentio as a rustic innocent and was certainly likeable. These are all great dancers and I appreciated their bravura technique. The Bolshoi acting style is something else: it’s overly emotive and plays better in massive performance halls like the Bolshoi’s home stage in Moscow. Here in Lincoln Center’s more intimate DHK theater much of the acting came across as histrionics and needed to be toned down. The show opened with a before the curtain gimmick. A sultry brunette, Victoria Litvinova, in a transparent top, capri pants and heels vamped across the stage in front of the curtain as the orchestra tuned. She sat down, center stage and changed her heels for pointe shoes. When she was ready, she indicated that it was time to raise the curtain. This was The Housekeeper who seemed to be orchestrating a good deal of the action. She also dealt herself into the action later on by snapping up one of the rejected suitors – the rich one.

The music was a collection of Shostakovich works that seemed to fit the bill well enough and the New York City Ballet orchestra was sharp under the direction of Bolshoi conductor, Igor Dronov. Especially enjoyable was the inclusion of the composer's jazzy setting of Tea for Two. Augustin Maillot, son of the choreographer, designed the costumes including the coat that Petruchio wore as it shed bits of ersatz fur all over the stage. The women’s costumes were verging on sleazy. Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s all-white set design was spare but effective, sort of minimalist. It consisted of two curved staircases and some columns that lit up. Dominique Drillot’s lighting scheme was the best of the design contributions in that it was attractive and conveyed atmosphere.

Maillot’s choreography for this ballet is not especially original although it was entertaining. It served the purpose and there’s plenty of action but there is nothing memorable about it. His specialty seems to be creating a glittering cinematic aura around the action. Everything looks good in this Taming of the Shrew but it’s short on substance. Part of the problem is that he doesn’t seem to have room for anything but promiscious women. Katharina spends the whole first act in lingerie. Sweet, demure Bianca finally hooks up with a fiancé of her own and becomes… slutty. The Widow is sad and lonely except that she’s hot looking and, well, a little slutty too. The Housekeeper, whose job is ostensibly to keep house is also… slutty. It’s supposed to be sensuous and erotic but it really boils down to the objectification of women. It does not strike me as empowering women in any meaningful way. It wouldn’t hurt to let some women just be women once in a while.