May 7, 2015 - The Scottish Ballet brought A Streetcar Named Desire to The Harris Theater this weekend, wowing audiences with its nearly flawless performance. Innovative ideas in set design, choreography and strong performances refreshed the audience experience even against the dark storyline. Streetcar is a cinematic experience, dramatized beyond simple movement, using pantomime, acting acumen and props to enhance the dancing.
The ballet opens with a single, exposed light bulb hanging low above the stage, a woman, Scottish Ballet principal, Eve Mutso, dressed in a delicate, flowing white dress, spins below it, hypnotized by its light. She reaches delicately to touch the bulb, the rest of her body cascading downward from her arm, never quite making contact with the object of her desire, that single bulb. The image of a delicate moth, flapping just close enough to the light to keep its wings from singeing in the heat is the first of many well placed and strong visual images within this production. These images balance just the right amount of "literality" and imagination to fill this ballet with necessary deep thinking, and to push audiences beyond simple passive enjoyment.
Though difficult to choose the strongest aspect of this ballet, the collaboration between theater director Nancy Meckler, choreographer Anabelle Lopez Ochoa, composer Peter Salem, and set and costume designer Niki Turner to stage a complex and well-known story in a new and fresh way must be celebrated. Audiences are treated to surprise after surprise in innovation. From the iconic Belle Reve quite literally crumbling to the ground signifying the fall of main character, Blanche, to characters falling with each flash of an imagined flashbulb camera to signify their own demise, the artistic team makes sharp choices in representing the main points of the story without spoon-feeding viewers with too-literal interpretations.
Expert use of bright color, such as cheery umbrellas during a particularly happy scene, and the use of reds to represent blood, pop delightfully against the grays and blacks of the explicitly industrial set. Innovative uses of simple boxes impressed as they became seats, a radio, and even suitcases. Finally, the dropping of 28 exposed, incandescent light bulbs lent cozy warmth to the set and was newly breathtaking each and every time it happened.
Perhaps the only slightly awkward element in this work is the musical score. Bumping along, and, at times detracting from the flow of Scottish Ballet’s beautiful and sure-footed dancers, the music does an amazing job of setting a scene, but is perhaps the reason this ballet seems more like a play than a ballet. Stylistically, the music is a bold choice for a ballet, and absolutely accomplishes its goal to create the correct ambiance for each scene, but may be hard-to-swallow for those more accustomed to seeing traditional ballet performances from large-scale touring companies.
While Streetcar may not be the ballet you expect from a touring classical ballet company, it impresses with every detail, leaving Chicago audiences whooping and whistling at curtain call.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
The Scottish Ballet's Eva Musto (principal) as Blanch and Adam Blyde as Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire (photo courtesy of The Scottish Ballet).