Recent productions from Scottish Ballet have been fairly empty confections – lively, vibrant, beautifully performed but essentially without substance. This is a criticism that could never be levelled at A Streetcar Named Desire.
Director Nancy Meckler has brought her background in theatre and film into play, generating a clear sense of the theatrical and narrative to match the dance. And choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa has responded by creating dance that finds a way to eloquently replace Tennessee Williams‘ tortured, sour Southern prose. In addition, not only do we get the quality of physical performance we’ve come to expect from Scottish Ballet, but the dancers also get to stretch their acting muscles and exceed all expectations in carrying it off.
Ballet requires great strength, both physical and mental. Yet despite this, Eve Musto effectively conveys the fragility of Blanche DuBois in her tentative movements – only opening out when a man is around. It’s an eloquent shorthand for her state of mind, and contrasted with Tama Barry’s testosterone filled performance as Stanley Kowalski, creates a powerful yet unstable core to the production.
With the play, and certainly with Kazan’s film, the Blanche and Stanley dynamic dominate the action, but that doesn’t mean that other performers’ contributions should be ignored. Sophie Martin’s Stella – a part difficult to make truly sympathetic even with dialogue – is first-rate as the downtrodden, dominated and devoted spouse. Adam Blyde gives a tragicomic spin on Blanche’s doomed suitor Mitch, and Victor Zarallo and Luke Ahmet as Blanche’s dead husband and lover vividly haunt her tortured mind throughout the production.
Meckler understands narrative and so although Ochoa’s choreography is in continuous movement, the storytelling and engagement are never sacrificed for spectacle. Most notably, the rape scene manages to keep both dance and defilement in balance. There are a few missteps here, with at least one concept that should probably never have left the rehearsal room, but chiefly this is an exceptional piece of both theatre and dance: compelling, intelligent and at times gut-wrenchingly powerful. If only every piece Scottish Ballet produced could have the courage of its convictions that this show clearly has.
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