BWW Reviews: The Scottish Ballet Brings Americana to the Kennedy Center
The Scottish Ballet performed A Streetcar Named Desire as a ballet at the Kennedy Center on Thursday, May 29th. On its face, this is a ridiculous statement. How could a foreign company perform the iconic American story by Tennessee Williams, much less translate it into pure movement? However, the production was extremely well conceived and magnificently executed in libretto, design, and dance.
The Scottish Ballet is headquartered in Glasgow, but regularly tours across Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Under the leadership of Christopher Hampson, formerly a dancer at the English National Ballet, the Scottish Ballet largely focuses on 20th Century works. For this production, the Scottish Ballet partnered with Nancy Meckler of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, a Dutch choreographer.
In order to fully and effectively tell the story in A Streetcar Named Desire, the Scottish Ballet relied heavily on exposition. The ballet started years before the play, in 1935. The audience sees Blanche's wedding, the dissolution of her marriage, the loss of her estate, and her descent into alcohol and casual sex. Themes of major events in Blanche's "pre-play" life (her wedding, her discovery of her husband's homosexual affair, and her discovery of casual sex) are established in the choreography that repeats later in the "action" of the play to help the audience understand Blanche's motivations and actions. These themes are either danced by members of the corps behind the main action, or by Blanche in an altered version in order to emotionally enrich each scene.
The Scottish Ballet used the production design to further the story and exquisitely complement the movement, expanding on the themes found in Williams' original play. They used an industrial set that primarily featured bare light bulbs that retracted from the ceiling as needed, and wooden crates. The harsh and sparse set represented the cruel reality that Blanche faced after her wedding. The score juxtaposed jazz with more traditional music to correspond with the thematic war of modernity in New Orleans and Belle Reve, Blanche's former southern estate. Further, well-placed music added gravity to scenes, such as discordant music filling the house when Stanley and Stella fought, and pulsating drumming as Stanley raped Blanche.
The dancing did not disappoint. While the choreography was not complex or technically challenging, the company executed it with precision and gusto.
The movements clearly told the story and expressed its emotional weight and complexity. Throughout the performance, Eve Musto, as Blanche, transcended the other performers. She fluttered delicately around the stage and emoted through movement with a tenderness that few can match, taking the audience with her on Blanche's journey and final descent into madness. However, Erik Cavallari as Stanley, danced in Marlon Brando's shadow. While he was technically proficient, his dancing lacked a raw masculine sexual energy and power. The production overall captivated the audience and exceeded expectations, paving the way for A Streetcar Named Desire to enter the ballet cannon.