From the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate to 1999’s teen cult classic 10 Things I Hate About You, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew has been remade in so many genres and set in so many eras, even those who’ve never heard of the play are familiar with its story. The farcical tale centers on the wooing of Katherine (Kate) — the hot-tempered “shrew” in question — by the nobleman Petruchio, who eventually “tames” Kate’s feisty nature.
It’s not exactly a politically correct tale for modern audiences, which is why choreographer Robert Sund has done some adapting of his own. This Saturday, State Street Ballet (SSB) will unveil Sund’s version of the play at the Granada Theatre. For Sund, Taming of the Shrew is a comical take on the battle of the sexes and a chance for both male and female leads to flex their power. Interestingly, the dancers chosen to play the two lead roles, Kate Kadow and Jack Stewart, are a real-life couple.
In rehearsal at SSB’s studios last week, they worked on the grand pas de deux at the end of the ballet, when Petruchio has finally won Kate’s affection. As Stewart supported Kadow in a slow pirouette, they gazed into each other’s eyes and smiled. Minutes later, as the duet came to an end, Kadow lost her balance and slumped awkwardly to the floor. The two burst into giggles.
“I feel really comfortable dancing with Jack,” explained Kadow, for whom this production marks the first time she’ll dance the lead role in a full, two-act ballet.
“She was made for this role,” Sund said, pointing out that in addition to her lively spirit, Kadow shares a first name with her character.
Inspired by female movie stars like Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Rosalind Russell, Sund set his version of the story in mid-century America. The score features 1950s pop music and hula alongside Stravinsky and Ravel. Designer Christina A. Giannini is hard at work on costumes that will evoke the era of sock hops and soda fountains, and while Sund relies on the cast for their strong classical ballet technique, he’s also introducing elements of jazz and free-form dancing, athletic sequences, and highly demanding lifts, especially for the leads.
For a production like this, the cast’s acting ability is just as important as the technical requirements — it’s a funny, irreverent play, and Sund aims to evoke laughs.
For these young lovers and dance partners, Taming of the Shrew is far from a misogynistic story about the need to subdue unruly women. “I feel powerful in my role,” Kadow said. “I don’t feel that I’m tamed so much as I come around.”
Stewart worded it slightly differently: “She kicks my ass just as much as I kick hers.”
State Street Ballet presents Taming of the Shrew at the Granada Theatre on Saturday, October 26, at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call (805) 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org. To learn more about the company, visit statestreetballet.com.