United Kingdom Peter Salem, A Streetcar Named Desire: Scottish Ballet / Richard Honner (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 19.3.2015 (SRT)
Blanche – Luciana Ravizzi
Stella – Sophie Laplane
Alan – Andrew Peasgood
Stanley – Christopher Harrison
Mitch – Remi Andreoni
Direction – Nancy Meckler
Choreography – Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Music and Sound – Peter Salem
I was bowled over by this Streetcar when I first saw it back in 2012. In this, its first UK revival, it hasn’t lost its power to draw you into its web of storytelling. In fact, knowing how it works and coming to it a second time, it allowed me to evaluate its structure with a little more distance and thus to give even more credit to those who created it.
The most praiseworthy thing about it remains its extraordinarily compelling ability to tell the story. Putting Blanche’s back-story on stage works brilliantly: not only does it introduce the audience to events which, in Williams’ play, are hinted at through dialogue – something impossible in ballet – but it lets the whole story unfold in a straightforward fashion, lending the whole thing clarity and increasing its power. Hence, to give one example, the piece’s linear structure builds inexorably to the screw-tightening tension of the dénouement, a moment intensified by the pathos of the preceding scene in which Blanche disappears into her fantasy world, only to be ripped out of it so violently by Stanley’s return.
If the second half felt slightly less involving this time around, it’s because they manage to fit so much of the action into the first half that the second revolves around some more languid moments, together with that slightly prolonged fantasy sequence. A bit of trimming or restructuring might work here, but that’s a mild criticism (and one that would probably be lost on a first-timer) when so much else that is on display is so good. I was even more impressed with Peter Salem’s score, acting like a long, cinematic tone poem that fits the action like a tailor-made suit. The simplicity and economy of Nancy Meckler’s set is something that a lot of other directors could learn from, too, stripping back the trappings so that nothing distracts from Blanche’s story.
In fact, I found myself engaging with Blanche’s background more deeply this time. The scenes at Belle Reve take on more poignancy, and the symmetry of the dancing between Blanche and Alan, her husband, are all the more beautiful for the short-lived nature of the happiness they evoke: before you know it, Alan is dancing similar moves with a young man to whom he is attracted. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s chorography grants personality to the characters in a way that speaks volumes. Luciana Ravizzi makes Blanche less vulnerable, less brittle than before, but the scale of the tragedy remains undimmed, and her pointe work is remarkable in its suggestions of fragility. Christopher Harrison cuts a mean, muscular figure as Stanley, full of smouldering intensity and latent threat, and I also really enjoyed Remi Andreoni’s rather goofy, accident-prone Mitch, Blanche’s only hope of happiness that is eventually snuffed out.
This remains one of the most compelling pieces of dance I’ve seen, and it’s still a must-see. Catch it while you can.