What do a blue tutu, a bicycle and Eric and Ernie have in common? Well these unlikely elements all combine to become Welsh Independent Ballet's "The Taming Of The Shrew". The former Cwmni Ballet Gwent, continue to explore the works of William Shakespeare through ballet. As usual with their works, choreography is by the founder and AD Darius James. The music used in this ballet is by Mendelssohn but includes songs by Bjork, Leslie Holme and Elsie Carlisle and Louis Armstrong.
I think that it is very brave of the small company (4 girls, 4 boys) to present a full story ballet. Many a larger company tour on a staple of divertissements; to present a full two hour ballet takes a lot of hard work. I have seen their work before so I knew I would not be disappointed with what was on offer. I recognise two of the ladies from previous performances; Lisia Moala and Amy Doughty, as Bianca and Katherine respectively. Miss Doughty has the character of the Shrew well in hand. Both trained in Australia; Miss Doughty is from Adelaide, my home town. It is strange that there should be two Aussies in a Welsh ballet company. Mind you, we do pop up in all sorts of places!
Most of Bill's stories are very convoluted and The Taming Of The Shrew even more so that usual. Unless you had previous knowledge of the story, I don't think that you could follow it just by watching the dance. Fortunately there is a precis in the program. The small cast means there is quite a lot of doubling of roles, and there are a lot more men characters in the story, so several of the girls adopt some really bad fake beards. I have previously spouted forth that I think bad beards and ballet go hand in hand, along with tutus and tiaras, so there is no complaint from me.
As the audience file in, there is the sound of birds chirping from the PA. Very pleasant but this has nothing to do with the story. The work opens with Christopher Sly, having argued with his wife, nodding off while listening to the radio. The story talks place in his dream, signified by lots of smoke on stage as the front drop rises. The special effects department were a bit heavy handed with the smoke as it drifted into the audience. Perhaps someone left the stage door open?
The set is a simple painted back drop which looks a bit like a children's painting of a village. This might sound terrible, but it is not distracting. In fact the set is really irrelevant to the ballet. In a latter scene there is a large tie-dye backdrop which looks like some rolling hills and a large red sun in a blue sky.
Bianca is dressed in a long powder blue outfit when we see her. Katherine, the Shrew wears a stereotypical peasant outfit; a laced bodice and a circle skirt in bottle green. The remainder of the cast wear coloured leggings and tunics. Lucentio and Hortensio wear mortar-boards to help us identify that there are disguised as tutors.
Katherine makes her appearance to Bjorks' "Falling In Love". A wild rendition aptly suited to the wild character. This is a well choreographed scene with the rest of the cast presenting a series of changing vignettes as the Shrew dances wildly. This same "photo" device reappears later.
There is some very funny bits to this work. I especially liked the tap dance performed by Petruchio, the taps being supplied by a couple of coconut shells clapped together by his servant Grumio.
The Wedding Scene is performed to a well known piece of music from A Midsummer Nights Dream. The rest of the Mendelssohn score may well be Symphony No 4. I say this as this is what is hinted at in the program, but I am not overly familiar with his music. The "photo" device is reused in the Wedding Scene, while we are waiting for Petruchio to arrive on his bicycle. This is quite a manic scene and ends act 1 perfectly.
Act 2 opens in Petrucio house and here he proceeds to tame Katherine. I didn't really follow what was going on here story-wise, but there was some fun bits to watch, so it didn't matter too much.
Most of the choreography is simple but effective. Each sequence is repeated two or three times, so if you blink and miss a lift, you don't have too long to wait before it reappears. Darius James choreographs all of the company's ballets and he clearly knows the strengths and weaknesses of the dancers. This is the first production that I have seem the company do, in which Mr James is not the leading man; he plays the dad instead.
There is a very classical pdd toward the end of act 2, which would not look out of place in any ballet. OK, so the exit from the fish dive was a bit clumsy but the effect was not spoiled. There is a classic pd6 too. It would not look out of place in Swan Lake, Copellia or Giselle.
After the applause (which I felt was milked just a little to much), there is little coda. The company dance as four couples to the strains of "As Time Goes By". One by one they disappear and Christopher Sly awakens from his dream and is reconciled with his wife.
The company continues to produce very watchable ballet on a shoe string budget and with a small cast. They deserve your bum in a seat when they perform in a theatre near you. The Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury where I saw them, was almost a sell out; good to see!!
As to where Eric and Ernie fit in, well you will just have to go and see them for yourselves to find out!