Stuttgart Ballet: The Taming of the Shrew

Opera House, Stuttgart
July 18, 2023

John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew is packed with comedy characters and situations, even if the humour is very much of its time. It is also sometimes just downright silly. It’s probably the nearest ballet has ever got to English farce, ‘Carry On’ even, and needs to be approached as such.

Despite its title, and as Cranko shows us, the story is not really about chauvinism or misogyny. It’s actually a very warm tale, one told with a very English sense of humour and wink.

The thing is, both lead characters, Katharina and Petruchio are wild in their own way. He’s a bit of ruffian; a lad always up for a drink and a practical joke. She’s prone to throwing a strop at the slightest inclination. An unpredictable, bolshie-teenager 1590s-style. But why it may be called The Taming of the Shrew, what we in effect see is them taming each other or, more accurately, realising that they are capable of loving. ‘Shrew’ is a love story, and over two hours, Cranko shows us how that love awakens. And yes, there is some fun along the way.

Ciro Ernesto Mansilla as Petruchio and ensemble
in John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

From the moment he first appears, Ciro Ernesto Mansilla is a fine Petruchio. He brings incredible bubble and bounce to the role. He oozes charm, even when drunk or having a set-to. The energy never drops whether pulling off fabulous pirouettes or superb tours en l’air. Something clicks with him the moment he first meets Katharina. He knows it. The fun comes because the same feeling takes a bit longer to register with her, for that heart behind the scowl to burst forth.

Anna Osadcenko played Katharina for all it’s worth. From the moment she stepped on stage, she was whirlwind of stomping feet and glaring looks. But while she’s very good at the big antics, it’s the smaller, more nuanced moments that really stand out: the little looks, the raising of an eyebrow and, best of all, her body language when she realises that something is happening, something has changed inside, but she doesn’t quite know what and she doesn’t understand.

The onstage chemistry between the couple was perfect, in the humour and in the dance. And the pas de deux are wonderful. They are not steamy but, typically Cranko, they are very human. They are balletic but without the formality. The couple get close. They lead each other into beautiful lifts, supports and positions. Words are not required.

Ciro Ernesto Mansilla as Petruchio and Anna Osadcenko as Katharina
in The Taming of the Shrew
Photo Roman Novitzky/Stuttgart Ballet

Best is that in Act I, which starts with Katharina furious with Petruchio but absolutely in love by the end. Osadcenko made her gradual surrender to her awakening feelings real. And that’s important because it helps us believe.

A lot of the silliness comes from the would be suitors for Bianca, for whom any wedding is impossible until older-sister Katharina is married. A little strange and wacky, they were a delight. That Cranko establishes the character of each in just a few steps is the sign of a master.

Alessandro Giaquinto clowned away perfectly as Gremio, falling over his own feet and making the most of his scarf and snuff handkerchief. Hortensio is a little trickier to get just right, but Martino Semenzato strummed his mandolin nicely as the love-struck foolish romantic.

Mackenzie Brown’s youthful Bianca was only going to be won over by Lucentio, though. Daniele Silingardi was charming and elegant. Their pas de deux in the second act was finely fluid, although not especially romantic. And while the pair do also get wed, there’s just a hint that Bianca might be something of a thorny rose too.

The ensemble backed up the main characters superbly. As always, Cranko’s crowd scenes are excellently staged.

Fifty years after Cranko’s death, it’s good to see The Taming of the Shrew still feeling fresh. It didn’t make me laugh out loud, but then it never does. It is impossible not to roll along with the fun, though. It sends you away smiling, especially when the dancing is this good too. It is a feel good ballet and sometimes that’s just what’s required.