Dance Review: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (Scottish Ballet)

by Tony Frankel on May 20, 2017

in Dance,Theater-Los Angeles,Tours

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A STREETCAR TO HEAVEN

Thankfully not just a review of record. Still, you only have two more chances to catch what is surely the most phenomenal storytelling I have ever seen in a narrative ballet. The highest compliment I can offer director Nancy Meckler, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and composer Peter Salem is that you don’t have to be familiar with Tennessee Williams’ 1947 masterpiece to understand the stunning visuals. Indeed, there are moments in Scottish Ballet’s adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire that resonate far beyond the film and any of the half dozen different productions that I’ve seen.

Equally thrilling is the notion that we get to see Blanche’s world before she even takes that fateful streetcar to her personal Elysian Fields. In the play, a fading Southern belle, Blanche DuBois, packs up her meager belongings and arrives on the doorstep of her sister Stella’s tiny low-class apartment in New Orleans. Stung by a lost love and lifestyle, Blanche—having made some desperate mistakes—can no longer deal with reality. With booze and memories colliding in her brain, she is intent on blurring the edges of her existence. But living with Stella and her crude, simple husband, Stanley—fierce and unpredictable, moving from violence to softness in an instant—begins a brutal, barbarous dance that can only end in pain and regret.

The psychological dance on stage at the Dorothy Chandler through Sunday brings to life Williams’ signature poetic prose, muggy Southern Gothic setting, and psychological insight. But to accent Blanche’s unraveling, the creators introduce a stunning prologue which elucidates her marriage to Alan, who, after being discovered having a sexual tryst with another man, commits suicide. Our heroine, haunted by her reaction of disgust to her newly wedded partner, carries the ghost of Alan with her throughout the two-act ballet. The pas de deux between Alan (Victor Zarallo) and his lover Jeff (Constant Vigier) is so precarious and passionate that we palpably experience an added layer of a Deep South soaked in secrets.

After one of the greatest theatrical moments you will ever witness—the deterioration and collapse of the family’s plantation, Belle Reve—we even get a glimpse of Blanche’s sordid assignations that contribute to the destruction of a soul raised in a romanticized world.

Theater, design and dance have rarely collided in such a credible recounting of craftiness and calumny as Blanche begins her literal dance of lust, betrayal and—above all—desire with the temperamental Stanley Kowalski, played here by the tough and sinewy Christopher Harrison, who magically embraces not just an American lower class animal-of-a-man, but a universal soul who fiercely refuses to be caged by his circumstances.

With breathtaking indefatigability, Eve Mutso shoulders the demands of both actress and ballerina. Her strong, graceful footwork and long, lithe leg-raises alone are worth the price of admission; but she also nails the complexities of Blanche’s cunning and claustrophobia (Araminta Wraith appears Sunday matinee). I understand and empathize with Blanche and Stanley in new ways, and also have a new appreciation of sister Stella’s need for Stanley’s brutalization to jolt her from old-fashioned Southern mores, going so far as to accept his physical aggression during her pregnancy. (The luminous Sophie Laplane alternates with Bethany Kingsley-Garner.) As Mitch, Stanley’s shy but needy poker-playing buddy, Luke Schaufuss embodies the hurt and anger resulting from Blanche’s deception. It’s clear that these dancers learned characterization first and choreography second, building their movement from motivation.

This exceptional ballet is exquisitely danced and creatively staged with fluid scene changes and symbolic lighting effects that enhance the artists’ emotionality. The music, which goes from graceful waltzes at Belle Reve to jazzy swing in New Orleans, and the costumes—roomy yet evocative—also help us to envision a steamy street, train station, bowling alley and nightclub, where every dancer gets a chance to shine. The corps de ballet here is always on the go, creating character while constantly moving crate-like cubes with precision.

Theater and dancemakers of the future, rejoice; this multi-disciplined creation is a template for re-imagining a classic work while putting a personal stamp on the piece. This is the one you simply cannot miss.

photos by Andy Ross, Courtesy Scottish Ballet

A Streetcar Named Desire
Scottish Ballet
Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance
at the Music Center
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave
ends on May 21, 2017
for tickets, call 213.972.0711 or visit Music Center
for more info, visit Scottish Ballet

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Burl Willes May 20, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Thank you for the excellent review. This is one of the most splendid productions I have ever seen! BRAVI, All!

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