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Stella A Trois

Tennessee Williams’ most spiky love triangle, the ultimate study in late 1940s Southern American melodrama, is an interesting piece to adapt in the twenty-first century. Tackling issues around abuse, class and consent would undoubtedly be a challenge for any dance company. To that end, Scottish Ballet brought in an intimacy coach—ensuring all of the dancers feel comfortable, dealing with portraying the darker themes of sexual violence, addiction, suicide and domestic violence.

Performance

Scottish Ballet: “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Place

Theatre Royal, Glasgow, UK, April 13, 2023

Words

Lorna Irvine

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Tennessee Williams’ most spiky love triangle, the ultimate study in late 1940s Southern American melodrama, is an interesting piece to adapt in the twenty-first century. Tackling issues around abuse, class and consent would undoubtedly be a challenge for any dance company. To that end, Scottish Ballet brought in an intimacy coach—ensuring all of the dancers feel comfortable, dealing with portraying the darker themes of sexual violence, addiction, suicide and domestic violence.

Of course, it goes without saying that this version burns with intensity. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s choreography has much invention, as well as bubbling turmoil—the central motif of Blanche Du Bois (Marge Hendrick) as a fluttering moth drawn to the flame is reinforced by shaky hands and skittish physicality. Hendrick portrays Blanche with wide-eyed naivete at the outset, then seems like a broken doll as her mental decline becomes apparent, and she suffers a horrific rape at the hands of the thug Stanley Kowalski. The cliches of mental illness are skilfully avoided, as are overwrought, more obvious gestures. Even the device of having Allan, Blanche’s husband appearing and reappearing as a ghost, works. His suicide after Blanche is disgusted to discover his homosexual affair, is depicted through the sound of a gunshot. Javier Andreu as Allan is an eerily effective presence throughout, as Blanche’s wild hallucinations start to encroach on reality.

(Centre) Rishan Benjamin, Aaron Venegas and Scottish Ballet company in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Photograph by Andy Ross

The fine ensemble work ramps up the paranoia around ‘the other’—one scene has the townspeople move in one clump, as though congealing around the concrete; another features the New Orleans commuters, clad in grey, turning their backs on Blanche. It is as though the city itself, shadowy and sinister, has no safe place for her to stay. Crates are moved around Nicola Turner’s set like building blocks of identity, a metaphor for losing her sense of self. Even the symbols of Americana, such as transistor radio; Coke bottles, swirling circle skirts and a jukebox seem steeped in long, ominous shadows.

Guest Principal Ryoichi Hirano in Scottish Ballet’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Photograph by Andy Ross

Indeed, Nancy Mickler’s direction is as much about the micro as macro details—any tells, like darting eyes and an arm tucked nervously behind a back say far more in lieu of dialogue. Bethany Kingsley-Garner as Stella brings much subtlety to the role, as the self-contained, empathic sister of Blanche trying to cling on to some semblance of order as everything crumbles around her, with her husband Stanley pitting Blanche against her. She is as small, quick and spare in her movements as Ryoichi Hirano’s Stanley is a swaggering, strutting brute, prowling and animalistic. Even a simple game of bowling becomes ritualistic—with the macho men preening and competitive and the women sidelined in the background.

Marge Hendrick as Blanche in Scottish Ballet’s “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Photograph by Andy Ross

But it’s the zesty solos from Jerome Barnes as put-upon Mitch, would-be love interest for Blanche, which prove most impressive. He’s the epitome of jazz cool, even when bringing a goofy levity to the production. His lean, lanky frame has an angularity and elegance in the lindy hopping scenes, and he flits between figure of fun and sensitivity effortlessly. He’s a joy to watch, a highly instinctive soloist with equal parts excellent comic timing and pathos.

As Peter Salem’s lush, sinewy score—which moves from jazz to pared-back, tense, pulsing electronics—wraps around the production, the ensemble provide potent symbolism, particularly in the latter scenes. Dressed in black and with roses in their mouths, they are the silent enablers of abuse, watching, aware and yet saying nothing; every bit a twenty first century concern now, as then. Progress is slow.

The tour continues across Scotland. For dates and tickets, head to www.scottishballet.co.uk

Lorna Irvine


Lea Marshall has been writing about dance for over 20 years. Her work has appeared in Imagining: A Gibney Journal, The Atlantic, Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher, Dance International, WomenArts, Richmond’s Style Weekly, and Charlottesville’s C-ville Weekly. Marshall has worked as a producer and arts administrator since 1999, serving as co-founder and Executive Director of Ground Zero Dance for 13 years, and as producer/associate chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Department of Dance + Choreography for 17 years. She currently serves as Director of Research for VCU’s School of the Arts, and on the board of the American College Dance Association.

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