A Streetcar Named Desire: Northern Ballet Theatre, Theatre Royal Nottingham, Saturday Evening 13 October 2001.
When Stanley comes back from the hospital their final inevitable sexual destiny is played out.
So, according to a recent ballet.co poll, a third of pollsters consider that the link between ballet and sex is only slight, or non-existant. I suggest they get hot on the trail of NBT and see Elizabeth Zenagra (as Blanche DuBois) dancing whilst wrapped in a white bath towell, which she eventually lets fall to the floor. Or even the rape of Blanche by Stanley (Christopher Giles), Stella's Polish husband. Or maybe you would prefer the homosexual pas de deux between Blanche's former husband (dead, but in her memory) and his boyfriend, culminating in, yes, the male kiss. Sizzling stuff indeed.
Not ever having seen either the movie or a stage production of Tennessee William's Pulitzer prize-winning play, I decided to get a copy from Amazon and read it this morning (it took less time to read than seeing the ballet). How glad I was that I had done so. The choreography is so incredibly faithful to the story line, yet adopting the most ingenious ways of portraying it, I really think I would have been bewildered if the words of the play were not fresh in my mind.
The first act was quite straightforward and I could follow the plot quite easily. Blanche's history, the story of her lost Belle Revé home, a plantation mortgaged to the hilt and lost after the death of her parents, was recounted by "flashback" scenes in which Blanche and her sister Stella (Desirée Samaai) were danced effectively by 'doubles'. The poker scene with Stanley and his mates (including Jeremy Kerridge as Steve) was brilliant, and the "making up" pas de deux between Stanley and his pregnant wife Stella after he had beat her up was one of the most touching bits of the performance.
It was at the start of the second scene that the plot drifted away a bit from the original. Blanche needed the opportunity to tell Mitch (Hirono Takahashi), with whom she envisaged future prospects, the circumstances of her fated marriage. Tennessee Wiiliams' stage notes makes only a passing reference to a fair ground ("They have probably been out to the amusement park..."). Howevere Didy Veldman seizes upon this as an opportunity for a colourful divertissment involving fun-fair ghosts, toffee apples, candy floss (who actually dances on pointe!), tarantula, clowns and Chinese Whispers. Oooh! The tarantula - an allusion to Blanche's secret past was a masterpiece of choreography - it would be a shame to reveal the details here!
The plot soon reverted to type, including the birthday cake made by Stella for Blanche, although Stanley's present for her was a more obvious gift-wrapped packed suitcase rather than the streetcar ticket home in the original.
The closing scenes were true to the play - even the ripping off of the lampshades so that Mitch could see Blanche's real age in good light, and her rape by Stanley when he returned from taking his wife Stella to the hospital after she went into labour. The final climactic scene was the arrival of the doctor and matron to take Blanche away to the madhouse, when ensued a stunning dance for the corps as Blanche foresaw a life confined to a straight jacket.
There are some truly innovative aspects of stage craft in this ballet. At one point I sensed a weakness when Stanly was whispering to Mitch the secrets of Blanche's sordid background as an "exotic" dancer, and I felt that I would have been completely bewildered had I not just read the play. However, through cunning use of semi-translucscent foil, Mitch was able to confront her with her own history, and all became clear. But that is a detail you need to see for yourself.
I am a bit of a fan of Philip Feeney's music, and this was no disappointment. Colourful, musical, eminently danceable to, and yet sinister with rattles and percussive thumps when needed. He also cleverly integrated the jazz and blues stuff, as well as the 'blue piano', so heavily featured in the play. Bravo!
MAN OF THE MATCH
I'm tempted to offer this to the tarantula. But Elizabeth Zengara really stole the show. She is billed as the "Principal Guest Artiste", on loan from BalletMet Columbus, USA. Cor! What a catch! I hope she stays around a bit, she is amazing and beautiful, I could watch her all night!
I felt slightly whistful as I wondered how Jayne Regan would have dealt with the role of Blanche. I bet it would have suited her perfectly.
If you can catch up with NBT before their tour ends in November, I think you will not be disappointed. But if you are not familiar with Tennessee William's play, I heartily recommend reading it first.
Whoever you are - I have always depended on the kindness of strangers