BWW Review: The National Ballet of Canada's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is Breathtaking From Start to Finish
No one yells, "Stella!" at the ballet - because they don't have to. John Neumeier's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, inspired by the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tennessee Williams, had its National Ballet of Canada premiere on June 3, 2017. The ballet dives deeper into Blanche DuBois' psyche, examining the motivation for her psychological instability. Featuring music by Sergei Prokofiev and Alfred Schnittke, Mr. Neumeier's choreography exposes more vulnerability, fragility and desire than could ever be communicated by words alone. Neumeier's visionary production expands on the context referenced in Williams' play - by showing us more, we feel more.
The first act opens in silence. Blanche DuBois sits, shaking on a naked bed. The stage is cast in a sterile, white (Blanche's signature colour) - symbolizing her eternal longing for the pure, idealistic life that has passed her by. Screeching violins introduce Blanche's escape into a frantic daydream. Accompanied by Prokofiev's gorgeous and suitably titled, "Visions Fugitives" Op.22, the music is broken up into short vignettes, lending itself beautifully to the pace of the first act. Blanche invites us back to Belle Reve, abruptly leading us through various memories in a "beautiful dream" sequence. As the action transitions to the modernity of New Orleans, the music evolves with it. A single voice pierces the silence singing "Paper Moon", layered over the crescendoing orchestra in haunting dissonance. The memory fades as the set and its characters, literally and figuratively melt before our eyes. Blanche struggles to hold onto this part of her past, mirrored by pulling, reaching and grabbing in Neumeier's choreography.
If you've read the play, the second act will seem more familiar. Blanche travels to New Orleans to visit her sister, discovering a bustling and unfamiliar world. The big city doesn't have an ounce of the old money elegance that Blanche identifies with - its moved on without her. Neumeier enhances this conflict by choreographing Blanche stylistically at odds against an ensemble of young, jazzed up New Orleanians. Blanche stands out - she's out of place in a changed world. Alfred Schnittke's Symphony No. 1 accompanies this memory with sustained chords and elaborate horn lines that help to create the hectic, urban atmosphere. The second act is a bit too busy. It almost makes you feel a tad mad by the end of it.
Blanche DuBois is absolutely divine when played by Sonia Rodriguez. Rodriguez pulls you into Blanche's flawed perception of reality from the moment the curtain rises. Her Blanche is careful. Through Rodriguez' elegant technicality, we're presented with a delicate Blanche who still dances like the young, idolized southern belle she longs to return to. Guillaume Côté, as Stanley, embodies the masculine virility that made Marlon Brando's portrayal so appealing. Côté spends most of the ballet in as little clothing as possible - presenting a sort of arrogant confidence that forms the perfect rival for Blanche's "conservative" identity. Jillian Vanstone's Stella is full of life, her dancing is spirited and free. Evan McKie portrays Mitch brilliantly, with earnest sensitivity. Not only is McKie a mesmerizing dancer, he is also a natural actor. His Mitch has a dynamic relationship with emotion, ranging from insecurity to rage-filled disappointment. McKie and Rodriguez dancing under the stars in Act II, is stage chemistry at its finest.
In my opinion, the ballet is more effective than the play in providing insight into Blanche's mental condition. Instead of references to Belle Reve, we're transported there to experience it with her. By creating flashback sequences, we gain a greater understanding of Blanche's inability to let go of her youth. She feels as if it was stolen from her - her prime years wasted. She suddenly becomes easier to sympathize with. One can argue that dance, in the right hands, is even better than words at examining these intricate nuances of the mind. The unlimited potential of the body to express emotion, especially at the hands of Mr. Neumeier, can convey more than words could ever hope to describe. His take on A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is exciting, provocative and raw. It will take your breath away.
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, presented by the National Ballet of Canada and BMO Financial Group runs through June 10, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St W, Toronto, ON.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit national.ballet.ca
Sonia Rodriguez (June 3, 7, 8, 10 at 7:30 pm)
Svetlana Lunkina (June 4, 10 at 2:00 pm)
Jurgita Dronina (June 8 at 2:00 pm/June 9 at 7:30 pm)
Jillian Vanstone (June 3, 7, 8, 10 at 7:30 pm)
Chelsy Meiss (June 4, 10 at 2:00 pm)
Emma Hawes (June 8 at 2:00 pm/June 9 at 7:30 pm)
Guillaume Côté (June 3, 7, 8, 10 at 7:30 pm)
Piotr Stanczyk (June 4, 10 at 2:00 pm)
Harrison James (June 8 at 2:00 pm/June 9 at 7:30 pm)
Evan McKie (June 3, 7, 8,10 at 7:30 pm)
Donald Thom (June 4,10 at 2:00 pm)
Jack Bertinshaw (June 8 at 2:00 pm/June 9 at 7:30 pm)
All casting is subject to change
**A Streetcar Named Desire contains mature content **