Thursday, 2 April 2015
Scottish Ballet's Streetcar
Scottish Ballet has always occupied a special place in my affections for the reasons I explained in Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013, Peter Darrell 9 March 2014, Elaine McDonald in her own words 11 March 2014 and Scottish Ballet and Ballet West 3 Oct 2014. Yesterday I found fresh reason to love that company last night when I saw A Streetcar named Desire at Sadler's Wells. This was a collaboration between theatre director, Nancy Meckler and choreographer, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The result is quite extraordinary: high drama as well as great ballet. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it.
The ballet is based on the play by Tennessee Williams. I say based because there are bits of the ballet that do not appear in the play such as Blanche Dubois's marriage and her late husband's suicide but these are necessary in order to set the ballet in context. In the play there are four main roles: Blanche Dubois, once the heiress of the great Southern mansion Belle Rêve, her sister Stella who has thrown in her lot with the uncouth Stanley Kowalsk and his mate Mitch who courts Blanche for a while. Commencing the ballet with the marriage enables Meckler and Lopez Ochoa to create a firth: Blanche's late husband Alan who shoots himself in despair after Blanche discovers his apparent affection for another man.
Blanche is not nice to know. Her rejection of Alan leads leads directly to his suicide. She is arrogant and disdainful of the hospitality that her sister and brother show her initially by taking her off the street. Stanley may be a brute but we can well understand why he doesn't like his sister in law. Playing dance music while he and his friends try to relax over a game of cards. She gets Mitch to change the the light fittings without so much as a by your leave. Finally she tries to turn Stella against her husband. She takes to the bottle. She has a succession of unhappy relationships. Eventually she tries to seduce the delivery boy. But for all her faults we can't help feeling sorry for her as her dignity like her clothes in the rape scene- is stripped away in layers. In the penultimate scene she is left naked quivering on the floor. A very powerful image.
Two fine young dancers have created that role - Eve Mutso and Luciana Ravizzi. Last night I sa Ravizzi, She comes from Buenos Aires - a city which, like the Southern states in the 1940s has known better days. It is the city of the tango - the mournful music of the Italian immigrants so far from home. That city has more than its fair share of tragic heroines. Most particularly María Eva Duarte de Perón whom we know as "Evita". I was conscious of those connotations as I watched Ravizzi dance last night.
Whereas I had some sympathy for Blanche I had much less for her sister Stella. One of the few wise and brave things that Blanche did was to try to save her sister from Stanley. To no avail for she threw herself into his arms no matter what the abuse. In the end she connived at Blanche's committal to the psychiatric hospital That role was danced by Sophie Laplane who portrayed that poor conflicted soul exactly.
Christopher Harrison danced the loutish Stanley. He was menacing in every movement. He walked in a slow, threatening swaggering gait. His gestures were staccato even when playing cards, His manhandling of Blanche in the rape scene was harrowing. A first class performance in every respect. Remi Andreoni danced the gentle Mitch with sensitivity. Andrew Peasgood was the ghostly blood stained spectre of Blanche's husband.
There were two other elements that made the show: Peter Salem's magnificent score and Niki Turner's designs. The loss of Belle Rêve was symbolized by the porticoed mansion collapsing into a pile of rubble, Brilliant theatre! One of several images from the performance that I doubt that I shall forget in a hurry
Scottish Ballet spent only three days with us. It was lovely to see them but I wish it were longer. I would love to have seen Mutso's interpretation of the role of Blanche. In her interview with Christopher Hampson in Uncut which I mentioned in Object of Desire 7 March 2015 and also in Mark Monahan's programme note Becoming Blanche, she describes the research she carried out to understand the role. She read the play, saw it on stage and studied the film. I would imagine her performance would be quite different.
The company is now taking the production to the United States and it will be interesting to see what the Americans make of this transposition of a classic of their literature. I think they will be as impressed as I have been and I certainly hope so.