At the Ballet
The Taming of the Shrew
Shakespeare's comedic tale of marital mismatch is given new life and modern energy in Ballet Austin's lighthearted and lovely recreation. Commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2004, this 17th century tale of the trials of courtship, marriage and common courtesy reminds us that true love is seldom achieved at first sight.
With dynamic choreography and breathtaking costumes, Stephen Mills offers a masterful work that enhances Kate's fiery petulance, Petruchio's patience, Lucentio's maneuvers and Bianca's sweet, naiveté in ways that would make the bard himself proud.
Choreography by Stephen Mills
Music by Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarlatti,
Domenico Scarlatti, Vincenzo Tommasini
Featuring the Austin Symphony Orchestra
This weekend, look for backstage guest-tweets by Company Dancers Anne Marie Melendez (^AM), Kirby Wallis (^KW), Chelsea Renner (^CR) and Ian J. Bethany (^IJB).
Follow Ballet Austin on Twitter here.
WATCH VIDEO #1:
Meet the Shrew
WATCH VIDEO #2:
Where is Petruchio?
Shakespeare’s comic tale of marital mismatch is sure to charm children and adults alike, especially as told via Stephen Mills’ inventive mix of classical ballet and commedia dell’arte.
Choreography by Stephen Mills
Music by Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti, Vincenzo Tommasini
The Long Center
October 5 – 7
Katerina (Kate), eldest daughter of Baptista; rude, foul-mouthed, and often violent
Bianca, youngest daughter of Baptista; mild-mannered, sweet, and kind
Baptista Minola, wealthy merchant from Padua; father of Kate and Bianca
Petruchio, gentleman of Verona and Hortensio’s friend; wants to marry Kate
Lucentio, university student from Pisa; falls in love with Bianca at first sight
Gremio, gentleman of Padua and Bianca’s suitor
Hortensio, gentleman of Padua and Bianca’s suitor
Lucentio sees Baptista and his two daughters, Bianca and Kate, and instantly falls in love with Bianca. Baptista insists that Kate, as the elder sister, be married first. Unfortunately, Kate’s behavior is so awful that no one wants to marry her. She has had many suitors, yet she drives them away with her bad temper and behavior. On the contrary, Bianca displays all of the kind and gentle qualities that Kate does not. Petruchio, a friend of Bianca’s suitors, hears about Kate and her wealth and decides to marry her sight unseen. He approaches Baptista and asks for permission to marry Kate. When Kate and Petruchio meet, she insults him, yet he claims that he finds her gentle and courteous. A determined Petruchio sets the wedding, freeing Bianca to marry.
Petruchio begins “taming” Kate by showing up late to their wedding. After more embarrassing behavior during the ceremony, Petruchio refuses to stay for the wedding feast. He then whisks Kate off to his country home, where he behaves worse than Kate ever had. He shouts insults at the servants, complains the food is overcooked and refuses to eat it. Kate defends the servants and asks Petruchio to show patience. However, he does not give in, even pretending that he loves her so much he cannot allow her to eat burned food or sleep in a poorly made bed. During a dream, Petruchio and Kate work out their differences.
Meanwhile at a carnival, two disguised women approach Bianca’s suitors, Hortensio and Gremio. Each suitor believes the woman he sees to be Bianca, and each pair marries. Of course, Lucentio planned all of this in order to secure Bianca for himself. At the wedding celebration of Bianca and Lucentio, Petruchio and Kate show their love for each other. To the surprise of every guest, Kate seems to be the most kind and loving wife … and Petruchio a true gentleman.
World Premiere: October 2003 at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, TX
National Premiere: January 2004, commissioned by and performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Last performed in Austin: April 2007 at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, TX
The Taming of the Shrew
was most likely written in the early part of 1592 and first performed possibly in conjunction with the Pembroke Men’s touring presentation of four plays (including Titus Andronicus
). This tour travelled through Bath and Ludlowe in response to the closing of London theaters due to an outbreak of plague. A play entitled A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called the taming of a Shrew
emerged around the same time, and to this day a debate surrounds the relationship between this version and Shakespeare’s official text. Despite differing opinions, A Pleasant Conceited Historie
was most likely a recorded transcription of a performance of The Shrew
. Other theories include A Historie
as a first draft by Shakespeare himself. This debate is a prime example of the typical problems associated with pinpointing exact dates and the true authorship of many of Shakespeare’s texts, especially of The Taming of the Shrew
. The play later became a part of Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623.
Controversy surrounding the play’s sexism and misogyny has existed almost from its inception—it caused just as much unease and embarrassment to Elizabethan audiences as it does now to modern ones. However, the theme of the husband tempering his headstrong wife is common throughout medieval and folkloric storytelling traditions. Most contemporary critics believe that Shakespeare sourced and combined his material from various oral folktales.
There have been countless adaptations of The Taming of the
Shrew. The first known was a play written by John Fletcher called The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed,
a sequel or reply to the original in which a recently widowed Petruchio is remarried to a bride who tames him. The most famous and familiar adaptions of the 20th
century include Cole Porter’s 1948 Broadway musical Kiss Me Kate
and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1967 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The most frequently performed Taming of the Shrew
ballet is South African choreographer John Cranko’s version, set to music by Sergei Prokofiev and developed and first performed at the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany.
Soon after the 2012 success of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills met with Derek Gordon, the Center’s Vice President of Education. They agreed that aTaming of the Shrew
ballet should be a part of the following year’s Youth and Family series, and Gordon officially commissioned the work, creating a partnership that would allow Ballet Austin to buildoriginal sets and costumes for this production. This was a huge compliment to Mills, the dancers, and the reputation of Ballet Austin. Mills said in a 2003 Austin Chronicle
interview that “I hadn’t intended to do Shrew
. I never even thought about Shrew
. But when the Kennedy Center calls, you don’t say no.”
Mills says in the same interview that he was inspired by the primary colors and costumes of Kiss Me Kate.
“I think what this production has turned out to be is a reconception of Kiss Me Kate
. It’s really vaudeville. It’s really bright. And while it’s not period, it’s evocative of it, but contemporary, and that’s what I like about it. It’s like show business. That’s what I wanted: to make it more like it’s show biz, a big show—a modern version of a touring company.” Ballet Austin showed the 1953 film version at a “Brush up your Shakespeare” night, hosted in collaboration with the Austin Film Society and the Austin Shakespeare Festival, precluding the preview run of the ballet in Austin in 2003.
Mills choreographed using the Italian comedic theater and dance style commedia dell’arte
(physical humor)to fit with the play’s slapstick humor and lively atmosphere, and set the movements to one of his favorite styles of music, Italian Baroque. Literally "comedy of art," commedia dell’arte
reached its popularity in the 16th to 18th centuries and combines improvisation with stock characters, props, and crude sets. Commedia
actors moved from one location to another as an on-the-go touring troupe. Much in the tradition of commedia,
the corps de ballet in Ballet Austin’s version act as a set crew, bringing on stock props and set pieces.
Following the national premiere, Washington Post
dance critic Lisa Traiger referred to Mills as “the bard of ballet” and called Ballet Austin “one of the nation’s best-kept ballet secrets.” The Dayton Ballet and the Sacramento Ballet both subsequently performed The Taming of the Shrew
using Mills’ choreography and music selections in March 2005 and February 2007, respectively.
Artistic Director Stephen Mills selected the music for The Taming of the Shrew
entirely from the works of Italian Baroque composers Antonio Vivaldi, Allessandro Scarlatti, and Domenico Scarlatti.
After Italy experienced a Renaissance of art, architecture, and music promoted by the papacy, Baroque music emerged as composers and performers used more elaborate musical ornamentation, made changes in musical notation, and developed new instrumental playing techniques. Baroque music expanded the size, range, and complexity of instrumental performance, and also establishedopera as amusical genre.
Mills talks about the music selection process in a 2003 Austin Chronicle
interview with Robert Faires:
“There’s no fine science to it. I believe in picking good music that stands on its own and music that I like and that I think is danceable. I put it on a minidisc player, and I think about the scene, and I move things around. This ends in a minor key, this starts in a major key. Is that too big a shift? I may have forty things on a disc that I’m shuffling around—four or five pieces that may be appropriate, and I may settle on one. Kate’s first entrance is very tempestuous, so you’re not going to have a piece of adagio music with it. It needs to be fiery. So out of these forty pieces of music, I may settle upon one, and then I just bring it into the studio and start to work. There’s a lot of just throwing it up into the air and seeing what happens.”
The majority of Antonio Vivaldi’s
music selected for The Taming of the Shrew
comes from his drammi per musica
, or “plays for music,” which literally means a play written to be set to music, or in Vivaldi’s case, an opera composed for the libretto. The operas sampled throughout Acts I & II include La Fida Ninfa; Arsilda, Regina di Ponto; Il Giustino; La Dorilla in Tempe; Bajazet; L’Olimpiade; La Senna Festeggiante; Il Teuzzone; L'incoronazione di Dario; and La Dorilla in Tempe.
Appropriately for The Taming of the Shrew
, Act I begins with the Tempesta di Mare,
a movement from La Fida Ninfa
about a storm at sea. A movement from Vivaldi’s seminal work L’estro armonico
is also used at the end of Act II.
Alessandro Scarlatti’sClori, Dorino e Amore: Sinfonia avanti la Serenata
is a serenade about love for three voices and is paired with the dances of the suitors in Act I.
music is used in Acts I & II of The Taming of the Shrew,
including Sinfonia No. 7 in C Major: I. Presto; Sinfonia a 3 in G Major: II. Allegrissimo;
and Sonata K208 in A Major
The entire Third Act, which includes the carnival and wedding of the two couples, is set to Movements I-VI from Le donne de buon umore,
or The Good-Humoured Ladies
, a ballet choreographed in 1917 by Russian choreographer Léonide Massine. The music comes from seven of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas and was arranged for the ballet by Italian composer Vincenzo Tommasini
(1878-1950). A comedic ballet, it tells of the diversions of a count, disguised as a woman, at a carnival. The music was arranged using several of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas—the music used for The Taming of the Shrew
are specifically the arrangements from Massine’s ballet, not the original pieces by Scarlatti.
Artistic Director Stephen Mills was inspired by the bright, fun colors of the 1953 film Kiss Me Kate
and conceived of a similarly vibrant feel for the ballet. Designer Tommy Bourgeois’ work pairs simple designs with beautiful masks for the dancers’ costumes in The Taming of the Shrew.
Mills didn’t want full interpretations of 17th
-century Italian dress, but rather costumes that gave a nod to the era. Their simple costumes serve as a base for putting on additional costume pieces and for portraying other characters. In commedia dell’arte
, dancers wore masks primarily to help identify the handful of standard character types, such as the lover or the handmaiden, who would appear again and again in commedia
. The second purpose of masks in commedia
was to limit the peripheral vision of the actors, forcing them to snake their head from side to side to see what was going on. The characters would thus develop unique characteristics that governed the way that they moved, directly affecting the way they did things on stage.
Says Jim Carnes of The Sacramento Bee
, “The costumes designed by Tommy Bourgeois are sumptuous. The commedia
dancers are clothed in shades of beige and tan, forming a soft backdrop against which the more vivid colors of the main dancers—blue for Bianca, red for Kate, and purple for Petruchio—really stand out. Even in her white wedding gown, Kate is laced in red ribbons. The passionate colors of Kate and Petruchio reflect their natures well.”
Bourgeois describes the set as a colorful “jewelry box” where the costumes “pop out” against the sparse white set, accented by green box shrubs and clear, Plexiglas furniture. “The set gives the impression of a pop-up book,” he says. “At times it enhances, surrounds, or engulfs.” Bourgeois begins his creative process by setting up an “artistic space or rhythm” to work in. For this set design, he listened to Italian Baroque music while cutting pieces of green and white paper into basic shapes, which can be arranged to form a church, a corner, or doors. The end result is a stage with a sunny Mediterranean feel with soft lighting by Lighting Designer Tony Tucci.
Cast & Credits
Choreography by Stephen Mills
Music by Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti, and Vencenzo Tommasini
Scenic Concept by Stephen Mills
Scenic & Costume Design by Tommy Bourgeois
Lighting Design by Tony Tucci
Stephen Mills, Choreographer and Scenic Concept
Stephen Mills began his tenure as Artistic Director at Ballet Austin in 2000. From his inaugural season, Mills attracted attention from around the country with his world-premiere production of Hamlet,
hailed by Dance Magazine
as “…sleek and sophisticated.” In 2004,The Washington Post
dubbed Ballet Austin “one of America’s best kept secrets” after Ballet Austin performed Mills’ world premiere of The Taming of the Shrew
, commissioned by and performed at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In 2005, Mills led 13 organizations through a community-wide human rights collaboration that culminated in the world-premiere work Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project,
after which the Austin Anti-Defamation League Awarded Mills its 2006 Humanitarian Award.
With his growing portfolio of over 40 works, Stephen Mills continues to enrich the repertories of companies across the U.S. and all over the world, including The Hong Kong Ballet, American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, The Atlanta Ballet, The Milwaukee Ballet, Washington Ballet, Cuballet in Havana, Cuba, Ballet Met Columbus, The Dayton Ballet, The Sarasota Ballet of Florida, Ballet Pacifica, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, The Louisville Ballet, The Nashville Ballet, Fort Worth/Dallas Ballet, The Sacramento Ballet, and Dance Kaleidoscope.
He also received the Steinberg Award, the top honor at the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition, for his original work One/The Body’s Grace
(1564-1616) was an English playwright and poet and is regarded as the greatest writer in the history of the English language. In his lifetime, he wrote over 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 narrative poems. His surviving works have been translated into every major world language, and his plays are performed more than any other playwright. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and spent most of his career in London with the company of actors known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi
(1678-1741) is considered one of the greatest Baroque composers and is known mainly for his violin concerti (in particular The Four Seasons)
, sacred choral works, and over 40 operas. Born in Venice but working throughout Italy and in Vienna during his career, he wrote many of his compositions for the female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà
, a home for abandoned children where Vivaldi worked between 1703 and 1740.
(1660-1725) is the universally acknowledged master of Neapolitan Baroque music. He wrote over one hundred operas, six hundred cantatas, and a number of oratorios. He was also frequently commissioned by members of the European nobility to compose sonatas for wind and string instruments.
(1685-1757) was the sixth son of Alessandro Scarlatti. He was born in the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. He later studied in Venice and became well-known after traveling to Rome with Handel. He is most famous for his 555 sonatas, mainly for the harpsichord and pianoforte. He lived in Spain for much of his life and developed a unique style of music called Iberian Baroque, which combined Portuguese and Spanish folk styles.
(1878-1950) was a leading figure in the revival of orchestral music in 20th
-century Italy. Born in Rome, he studied philology, Greek, and music, and later studied under German Romantic composer Max Bruch in Berlin. His first achievement was a one-act opera, Uguale fortuna.
His biggest success was his 1916 arrangement of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas for the ballet Le donne di buon umore.
“Ballet Austin masters the ‘Shrew.’” – Austin American-Statesman
“Lighthearted and lovely, it’s no wonder this work has won a distinguished opportunity to make a national premiere at the Kennedy Center.” – kut.org
“Stephen Mills is so good it’s scary.” – Michael Barnes, Austin American-Statesman
”Glorious.” – Michael Barnes, Austin American-Statesman
“Damned entertaining…as endlessly ingenious and impressive as Mills’ physical comedy was—and he kept the schtick flowing and flying through three full acts—what was equally impressive, not to mention equally funny, was his grasp of Shakespeare’s characters.” – Robert Faires, AustinChronicle
“You might call Stephen Mills the bard of ballet… [Ballet Austin is] one of the nation’s best-kept ballet secrets.” – Lisa Traiger, The Washington Post
“The funniest ballet you'll ever see. It's also a pretty ballet, and there's some incredible classical dancing in Act III.” – Dayton Ballet Executive Director Dermot Burke
“Delightful, funny, inventive.” – Terry Morris, DaytonDaily News
“With their fourth ballet based on the Bard’s work, Stephen Mills and Ballet Austin have danced the line between our folly and our wisdom, between the pratfall and the pirouette. Shakespeare would be proud.” – Robert Faires, AustinChronicle
“Mills takes a modern approach to the dance—“Shrew” is not only comic but acrobatic at times…The choreography here is excellent…The costumes are sumptuous…The lighting design is likewise excellent.” – Jim Carnes, The Sacramento Bee
Studio Spotlight – The Taming of the Shrew
Thurs Sept 27, 2012
12 – 1pm or 6 – 7pm
Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheater
Watch a professional dance company in action! Up-close, personal, and informal, Studio Spotlight gives guests a behind-the-scenes look at choreography and elements from the upcoming production while it is still in the works. This is the perfect lunchtime break or happy hour activity! Free admission for those who RSVP. Recommended for ages 8 and up. Minors must be accompanied by an adult.
Learn more or sign up
Footlights – The Taming of the Shrew
One hour prior to all performances Oct 5 – 7
The Long Center
Enhance your experience at the ballet with a pre-show lecture and Q&A for all ages. See the last-minute preparations unfold in the background as you relax and gain a unique understanding of the performance you are about to see! Learn more