The Taming of the Shrew at Birmingham Hippodrome – ‘incendiary comic choreography’
Shakespeare’s Shrew may have dated but John Cranko’s effervescent ballet hasn’t aged one jot since its debut in 1969. The bright and breezy overture sets the mood for the rollicking romp to follow as three foppish suitors attempt to court Bianca (Jenna Roberts) until the arrival of her older sister Katherina (Elisha Willis). She comes on kicking, slapping and judo-throwing like Pussy Galore on PCP and the action never lets up as she wallops her way through the hyperkinetic first half, crashing to the stage at one point in her frenzied exuberance.
Yet the cartoonish choreography conceals the intricate footwork and design of a master dance-maker, most evident in a tightly knotted pas de quatre and the glorious moment when the entire ensemble collapse like dominos as Petruchio (Iain Mackay) pushes over the leading figure.
The taming scene in Petruchio’s freezing house where he starves Kate into submission is appropriately uncomfortable but there is a feeling that it is their shared disrespect for authority that makes them perfect partners. It seems not so much a taming as an equalising of the sexes.
Every character in The Taming of the Shrew is well delineated in dance and Cranko is unafraid of raunchy sex. Subversive and mischievous, he even navigates conventionally romantic pas de deux into uncharted waters. If there is an energy dip in the second half it is sharpened by the lingering cordite of the first half’s explosive humour. Susan Benson’s simple, symmetrical sets are given depth by Steen Bjarke’s multicoloured lighting, both of which reflect the vividly animated choreography.
What makes Cranko unique is not that he was a great choreographer, it’s that he didn’t care that he was a great choreographer. How cool is that?