20 December 2014


At a time when relations between Russia and many other countries are decidedly frosty, Monaco has declared 2015 as “The Year of Russia in Monaco” and this was inaugurated by a visit from the Bolshoi Ballet to Monte-Carlo just before Christmas. To underline the cultural collaboration between the two countries, the Bolshoi performed a new version of The Taming of the Shrew created for them by Jean-Christophe Maillot, director of the Ballets de Monte-Carlo, and premiered in Moscow in July 2014.

The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy and perhaps to prepare the audience for this Maillot has introduced an extra character, a Governess, who enters in front of the house curtain as the auditorium lights dim and sits on the front of the stage. She leisurely files her nails while the orchestra tunes up and gently claps the entrance of the conductor to his desk. Dressed in a shiny black off-the shoulder dress she seems an unlikely sort of governess, but after an impressive solo is soon forgotten in the opening scene, which is very lively and very strongly danced by the full company. The two sisters, Catherine, the older one, famed for her irascible temper and bad manners, and Bianca, the sweet-tempered younger sister who has a string of suitors, but who cannot marry before Catherine does, are introduced into the scene with duets and small ensemble dances. In Vladislav Lantratov the ballet has a perfect Petruchio and he bounds on to the stage in a full-length fur coat, tall, strong, ebullient and supremely self-confident, accompanied by his valet, the smaller and extremely virtuoso Vyacheslav Lopatin. Petruchio is looking for a wife and takes on the challenge of ‘taming’ Catherine which he sets out to do with love, and sex, and seems to achieve with the first clinch. There follows a series of amorous and erotic pas de deux, which involve a lot of grappling lifts and rolling around on the floor. In Shakespeare’s play this ‘taming’ is a much longer and more complicated business, whereby Catherine is virtually tortured, deprived of sleep and of food, her attempts to please are rebuffed with abuse, and she becomes so brain-washed that she can agree with Petruchio that the sun is the moon and that black is white.

Ernest Pignon-Ernest, responsibe for the designs, has produced a huge half-circular staircase and six very tall pillars, which are moved around to form different settings. However, these glistening, white pieces of architecture seem more suited to Ancient Greece, than to the cluttered, messy, colourful environment of medieval Europe. However, what I found the more incongruous are the costumes, by Maillot’s son, Augustin Maillot. The women corps de ballet are dressed in half-length black tutus in the opening scene, and fluffy white tutus for the final wedding scene, while the soloists are in 21st century designer slinky pants and dresses. Catherine spends most of the ballet stripped down to a very small bustier, similar to Zizi Jeanmaire’s in Carmen, while Bianca, in blue and white, seems to be straight from the 1950’s as does the grey suit worn by her successful suitor which could come from Burton.

Maillot has put together a score by Dmitri Shostakovitch, much of it from the Jazz Suites, which are extremely danceable, but I found the inclusion of some movements from the symphonies difficult to justify, especially one very long, loving pas de deux danced to the last movement of one of Shostakovitch’s most stridently revolutionary pieces. The Bolshoi dancers are, of course, excellent: Ekaterina Kyrsanova, looking very alluring in her skimpy costume, meets every challenge of an unfamiliar choreographer, but has little chance to really establish a character of her ‘Kate; in the early scenes her tempers and tantrums often get lost in the general rush of movement. Anastasia Stashkevich was a perfect Bianca, sweet and gentle and excelled in the many lyrical and beautiful pas de deux’s with her Lucentio, the very attractive Artem Ovcharenko. What the production lacks is humour, for Shakespeare was pointing out, but also making fun of the very sexist attitudes of the day. The ballet came to a curious ending with four couples seated at small tables, miming drinking a cup of tea to “Tea for Two”, which is part of one of the Jazz Suites. This seemed total banal, however, the gentleman seated next to me sang along happily with the orchestra, and the Monte-Carlo audience gave the performance a standing ovation.