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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bolshoi's Witty 'Shrew' Outshines Competitor

William Shakespeare has inspired some of this season's best moments in dance, as well as some of the worst.

While John Cranko's delightful 1969 ballet "Taming of the Shrew" premiered successfully at the Bolshoi last week, the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko theater's version, unveiled a few days later, was a disappointment.

At the Bolshoi, "Taming of the Shrew" is part of the new leadership's effort to bring top Western contemporary choreography to Russia. In the past, Moscow audiences have occasionally glimpsed short works by major Western choreographers such as George Balanchine's "Prodigal Son" and Roland Petit's "La Rose Malade," but "Taming of the Shrew" marked only the second time that a full-length Western ballet by a 20th-century Western choreographer was performed on the Bolshoi stage.

The Bolshoi dancers were coached by an emissary from Stuttgart Ballet, the company that originally premiered "Taming of the Shrew." The choreographer himself died in 1973 after building Stuttgart Ballet into one of the world's most dynamic companies. Jane Bourne, a specialist in dance notation, reproduced the steps from her meticulous notes, and the Bolshoi dancers proved able pupils. The ballet's original designer, Elisabeth Dalton, came to Moscow and adapted her sunny sets for the enormous Bolshoi stage.

It seems a pity, however, that the effort and expense spent on premiering a 27-year-old ballet could not have been devoted instead to a new work commissioned from a living choreographer. But, top choreographers are booked years in advance, theater management has noted. Moreover, sponsors were willing to bankroll the Bolshoi premiere of Cranko's masterpiece.

In some sense Cranko's work was a wise choice. While the rest of the world has evolved choreographically, Russian audiences still expect to find dying swans, fairytale princes and classical vocabulary at the ballet. And so "Taming of the Shrew," which is more neo-classical than anything else, is a good step toward weaning. Nonetheless, at least two spectators walked out at intermission. "We are accustomed to classical ballet," the two women sniffed as they turned in their opera glasses.

Those who remained behind, however, were regaled with Cranko's swiftly paced humor, closely in step with Shakespeare's original play. As Petruchio, Alexander Vetrov reveled in this departure from his princely repertoire at the Bolshoi. Vetrov spun through the bumptious turns of Cranko's choreography with glee, his comic sense as fine-turned as his leaps and spins.

As Katharina, Mariana Ryzhkina was engaging in her first big role at the Bolshoi. But although the hard-working young dancer has clean technique and lots of potential, more experienced ballerinas would have made better foils for Vetrov, for example Lyudmila Semenyaka, a veteran dancer with lots of dramatic spark. She is rehearsing the role for future performances.

Especially vivid was the Bolshoi's performance of the sprightly pas de six of the Second Act, a sort of etude in heel and toe.

The Bolshoi orchestra turned in a perky performance of the score, formed from works by the early 18th-century Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti in arrangements by Karl-Heinz Stolze. Cranko's Petruchio subdued his shrew to the tender strains of the harpsichord, and the contrast was funny.

But at the Stanislavsky, choreographer Dmitry Bryantsev's Petruchio does the taming to more cracks of the whip than on the American cowboy series "Rawhide." Even 500 licks couldn't whip this hodgepodge into art.

Bryantsev has no new ideas to offer in this new work. The choreographic stew is one part "Don Quixote," one part warmed over Bryantsev works, a dash of the circus and a pinch or two of "Swan Lake." At one point Katharina peals off a set of fouett? spins and a round-the-stage set of piqu? turns. It might as well be Kitri or Odile calling.

Bronner's score was equally jumbled, ranging from broad, meaningless passages to tinkly schmaltz once the shrew was domesticated.

Bryantsev, the Stanislavsky's chief choreographer, is capable of excellent work. Perhaps it is the bard who is Bryantsev's downfall. The choreographer's "Othello" of two seasons ago featured such inanities as a purply stuffed ape, symbol of Othello, which the dancers tossed to and fro.

The Stanislavsky's best dancers, Tatyana Chernobrovkina as Katharina and Vladimir Kirillov as Petruchio, were forced to contend with this witless second attempt at Shakespeare. They, as well as the rest of the company, put their hearts into it. Nonetheless, the prodigious talents of the Stanislavsky dancers went to waste.

"Taming of the Shrew" will next be performed on May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Bolshoi theater, located at 1 Teatralnaya Ploshchad. Tickets through the EPS ticket service (927-6982) start at $50. The Stanislavsky, at 17 Bolshaya Dmitrovka, is next staging "Shrew" on June 8 and 24 at 7 p.m. Tel. 229-2835. Tickets start at 5,000 rubles (about $1).