It’s a story that transcends eras and cultures: the beautiful but recalcitrant young woman who resists all suitors, only to be won over by the least likely of them all. From Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew to Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, we’ve told the tale over and over, remaining fascinated with the power of love to transform character. Robert Sund’s version for State Street Ballet sets the timeless story in the 1950s, making Kate the snooty older daughter of a wealthy businessman, and Pete a genial bad boy with a penchant for alcohol, women, and sleeveless leather jackets.
The set, designed by Jean-Francois Revon, alternates between the interior of a wood-paneled bar and the exterior of Kate’s family home, which happens to be a killer Frank Lloyd Wright mansion. It’s there that tensions unfurl between Kate, her father, and her younger sister Bianca (Samantha Bell).
As danced by Jack Stewart, Pete is more sweetly roguish than truly corrupt, while Bell’s Bianca gets at her petulance and jealousy without much of the vacuous docility this character’s often saddled with. In a brief but effective scene, her boyfriend Louie (Ryan Camou) bribes Pete to court Kate and clear the way for him to marry Bianca. There’s a lot of rubbing together of fingers, nudging of elbows, and slaps on the back.
In her first full-length ballet as lead, Kate Kadow shines. She seems to revel in this character’s sassy, ice-queen attitude, as well as in her defrosting by Pete’s almost hapless charm. It must help that Kadow and Stewart are a couple in real life — they don’t have to fake the magnetic charge — yet the quality of their interplay goes beyond familiarity or comfort; it’s clear they both relish the duel.
As always, Sergei Domrachev nearly steals the show — his time as a hammy, bumbling suitor — though ballet master Gary McKenzie gives him a run for his money as the charismatic priest who performs Kate and Pete’s haphazard wedding ceremony to the crescendo of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero.”
State Street Ballet has certainly staged more dramatic ballets and even featured more commanding lead dancers. Yet the charm of this ballet isn’t in big, stunning visuals; it’s in much more subtle moments of psychological transformation. At the bar, Pete makes a pass at Kate, and she spurns him. Their sparring builds, the bar clears out, and though they kick, shove, and scramble from each other, their faces register glee. It’s only at the sudden, culminating kiss that the bartender pokes his head up: witness, as we are, to this small act that signifies a profound shift.