Tennessee Williams’s great play A Streetcar Named Desire is, like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, beautifully suited to the requirements of ballet (indeed, there have been at least two dance versions of Streetcar prior to this new production by Scottish Ballet). Like Romeo and Juliet, Williams’s play – in which fallen southern belle Blanche DuBois finds herself in a small New Orleans apartment that is home to her sister, Stella, and her macho brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski – is constructed of scenes of tragic conflict, physical passion and dangerous tribalism (in Williams’s case the distinctive tribes are men and women).
Typically of outgoing Scottish Ballet director Ashley Page’s leadership, the piece is the consequence of an audacious experiment. He invited Nancy Meckler (best known as co-artistic director of the Oxford-based theatre company Shared Experience) to direct her first ballet in collaboration with the Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (for whom this is a first foray into narrative dance). The result is a brilliantly bold and sensitive ballet which is full of memorable set pieces.
From the opening, in which we see a delicate Blanche fluttering under a naked light bulb, to the conclusion, in which Williams’s symbol of death (a Mexican flower-seller who offers blooms in memory of the departed) is stunningly multiplied, the particular skills of Meckler and Lopez Ochoa complement each other gorgeously.
At the level of the narrative, they seize upon the visual possibilities of dance to represent elements – such as the suicide of Blanche’s young husband some decades past, or Stella and Blanche’s trip to a show – which are only alluded to in the play.
The scene in which we witness the strongly gendered rituals of the bowling alley, where Stanley and the other men strut their stuff like puffed-up cockerels, is especially ingenious. Set to the appropriately jazzy sounds of Peter Salem’s excellent new score (which veers, when required, into modernist discordance), the brilliantly choreographed contrasts and combinations of the sexes are akin to the best moments of West Side Story or Guys and Dolls.
Danced with real power on opening night by Eve Mutso (Blanche), Tama Barry (Stanley) and Sophie Martin (Stella), this is (not least in its brilliant and horrifying portrayal of sexual violence) a new ballet of truly tragic proportions.
For tour details: scottishballet.co.uk
This review was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on April 13, 2012:
© Mark Brown