The Taming of the Shrew
A real wedded couple illuminated the roles of Kate and Petruchio in Stephen Mills' well-loved ballet
Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., Oct. 12, 2012
The Taming of the ShrewDell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
For this year's season opener, Ballet Austin offered Stephen Mills' well-loved The Taming of the Shrew in its third Austin iteration, and I concur with reviewers of past performances on the effectiveness of Tommy Bourgeois' color-coded, streamlined design and the seamlessness of the score sampled by Mills from Italian composers. The ballet, originally commissioned by the Kennedy Center for a 2004 young audiences program, shows Mills' knack for comedy in full flourish and has a plotline as clear as sugar-crystal candy. As in a child's diorama, sweetly framed with a muslin-colored drape, the stage is a playing ground for vivid doll-like characters and set pieces manipulated by youthful imagination: see-through furniture, wooden trees, a shiny white bicycle. It's a ballet that asks little of us – regardless of our age – but to "let the world slip" (in the words of Shakespeare's Christopher Sly, introducing the play within the frame) and have some fun.
Wedded couple Jaime Lynn Witts and Frank Shott, as Kate and Petruchio, respectively, led the Saturday cast. Witts, one of the company's most technically confident and fluent dancers, rallied her technique, strength, musicality, and gusto for a lively and assured debut in the role, and though Shott's part required less technical bravura, he was her match in presence and comedy, as well as a solid partner – in the grappling "taming" scenes, during the slapstick wedding antics, and all the way through the searching, romantic pas de deux. Whenever they entered, Witts and Shott illuminated the choreography's relationship to the music (conducted by Peter Bay), which was at times muddled by the rest of the cast.
Anne Marie Melendez seemed to enjoy the role of the gentle, swooned-over Bianca, exuding purity and simplicity in her steps and looking less worried than usual. As her three suitors, Christopher Swaim, James Fuller, and Jordan Moser evinced clean yet careful technique, and Oren Porterfield and Chelsea Marie Renner's synchronicity as the multipurpose Two Ladies, despite their difference in stature, should be a model for the corps de ballet. The corps, though useful and entertaining in its collective role of commedia dell'arte–inspired chorus, lacked cohesion in the subtleties of technique and style, despite unification by the identical costuming and masks.
There is much to like about the ballet itself, and I'm glad Mills has kept it in the company's repertoire, but I have one quibble with the production: The two-intermission format – making for an evening that clocked in at just about two hours – seemed contradictory to Shrew's streamlined nature. I'm guessing that when the ballet was performed for youth audiences in D.C., there was only one intermission. With two, this crystalline work seemed overstretched, which took away just a bit of its potential luster.
The Taming of the Shrew, Ballet Austin, Stephen Mills, Jaime Lynn Witts, Frank Shott, Anne Marie Melendez, Christopher Swaim, James Fuller, Jordan Moser, Oren Porterfield, Chelsea Marie Renner, Tommy Bourgeois, Peter Bay