The Playing of the Shrew

Ballerina Allysin Paino reveals more about taming Kate for Ballet Austin's "Shrew'

The Playing of the Shrew

When Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills first turned The Taming of the Shrew into a ballet four years ago, he bestowed the plum role of Kate on Allysin Paino, who tore into the role with a comic ferocity that was both hilarious and amazing to see. This week, Mills is reviving the ballet with Paino reprising her role as the Shakespearean spitfire, so the Chronicle checked in with her about the pleasures of playing Kate and the demands of the role.

Austin Chronicle: Do you remember your reaction when you got the part?

Allysin Paino: Shock. I was very surprised. Dancers ... in my experience, we don't expect a lot, and when the casting went up, I was like, "Oh my god, I'm gonna get to do Kate?" I was really excited. Really, really excited.

AC: What kind of research did you do?

AP: I read the play. With the CliffsNotes next to me to make sure I understood everything that was going on. I saw the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie. And I saw Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel in Kiss Me Kate. I also did a bit of research on Elizabethan England, to see what society was like at that time

AC: How did that inform what you did when you went into the studio?

AP: I saw the Elizabeth Taylor Shrew first, and she was a tomcat, just ripping up everything, and it was wild. It really put an action on what I had been reading. Then I saw Kiss Me Kate, a very different adaptation of that, and the character of Kiss Me Kate was different than what Elizabeth Taylor did. I thought they were both fantastic actresses in their own roles, and I kind of took both their interpretations and took what Stephen gave me – Stephen was really good about talking about the character of this woman and where he was going with the story, which was a little closer to Kiss Me Kate – and put a little Allysin spin on it.

AC: How was it different than other roles you'd danced?

AP: I had never been the main character that had to be present and have a clear transition through a three-act ballet. At first, when you think of Shrew, you think of this wild woman who beats everyone up, and it's fun and it's funny. But the thing about this character is, she's actually very complex. She starts out as this wild woman, but there's this distinct transition in the ballet where she notices her softer side and finds affection for Petruchio. So this character has to get through that transition so that by the third act she's a different woman, and she surprises everybody. That was very challenging. You really have to understand who these characters are. If you don't know where it's coming from, then you don't know how to apply whatever movement Stephen has given you. Motivation is really important, just like it is for actors.

AC: And the comedy of it?

AP: Comedy is very difficult. You have to have clear, concise comedic timing, or it's not funny. And this was my first experience having such a large responsibility in being funny while dancing. Stephen is brilliant at comedy. He's really good at choreographing ballet in a comedic tone. And the comedy is built into the movement, in this ballet in particular. It's very classically based – tutus, pink tights, pointe shoes – but you'll have classical lines, pirouettes, arabesques, and in the next second there's a woman throwing herself at three men and breaking bottles over people's heads and throwing a tantrum. So at the same time that you have this classical ballet going on, you have this tornado fly through, and Stephen's quite talented at that.

AC: Was it any more physically punishing than any other dance?

AP: Well, when you're choreographing a ballet, creating a ballet, you're workshopping a lot of material. You put these steps together – "Okay, let's try it like this. Now, Ally, try to throw yourself over here." – so you're playing with movement before it's actually set. And then you're doing it over and over to make sure that it fits within the context and works for that section. So a lot of the stuff where I'm throwing myself around was a lot more punishing when we were creating it at first than it is when we're re-creating it. In the rehearsal process, you figure out the mechanics of everything, where it looks like you're throwing yourself, but there really is a technique to it, and when you do the technique you're supposed to do, you don't get hurt. In forming that technique, in the creation process, yes, there are bruises and painful muscles and things like that. But the second time around, it's definitely easier to put back together. It's muscle memory, too. "I remember throwing myself at Petruchio, so what foot did I take off of? Where were my shoulders?" You kind of just run through what you created last time, so it's less of a painful beginning.

AC: Was it good to come back to Kate?

AP: I've actually gone with Stephen to two other ballet companies, Sacramento Ballet and Dayton Ballet, and helped him set Kate's material for The Taming of the Shrew. And I was really excited when he told us that we were doing this ballet again. I just love dancing this ballet. So much fun.

AC: And how has it been?

AP: I got back into her shoes pretty quickly. In fact, people have had to tell me to stop. "Please stop being Kate, just for a minute." Because in the initial creation, I researched so much and tried to find out as much as I could about this character, it just came right back to me. Especially since I've set it on two other companies in the interim. I'm actually discovering different things now. Now that the choreography is set and I'm not trying to find my way through the movement and it's in my body already, I'm playing with her character just a little bit – not a lot, because I think what I did last time was effective – just certain little nuances that I'm finding. Jim Stein, who plays Petruchio, and I have been working together quite a bit, really developing our relationship as Kate and Petruchio. We've been working a couple of new little things to put in, just as part of the character portrayal. And that's been really fun. Now I'm so comfortable with her character that I know how she would answer a question.

AC: Are there things about being a dancer with four years more experience than you had the first time you did it that makes this a different experience?

AP: Definitely. Stephen is adamant about training. He is very serious about taking class every day and about maintaining your technique on a daily basis. A lot of professional companies, it's not the primary focus. And it's not the primary focus here, but it's very important. So I have four more years of Stephen's technique under my belt, so I feel like I'm a stronger dancer, technically anyway.

AC: What's the most fun thing about being Kate?

AP: There are so many things! I get to crash a sugar bottle over one of the commedia men's heads. Which is hilarious. And we have a lot of new people in the cast this time around, so they may not be expecting it. There's nothing like that first night on stage when they get hit over the head with that sugar bottle and are just lost in the sauce. They don't know what's going on. It's really quite funny. The first act pas de deux, where it's not Petruchio and Kate's first meeting but it's the first time they have a conversation with each other. I equate that scene with the scene where Elizabeth Taylor is chasing Richard Burton through the house. Things are flying, and she's crazy and running around. I really enjoy that scene. I was saying before that she's a very complex character, and she has to go through this major transition, and I really like the entire second act, because it starts at Kate's wedding, where her character is still that wildcat, but midway through her dream scene, something changes, so I really enjoy that, too, because the subtleties are so important in terms of the portrayal of that character. end story

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Taming of the Shrew, Allysin Paino, Ballet Austin, Stephen Mills, Kiss Me Kate

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