By Steve Sucato
For the second time in three years, local dance audiences will be treated to a ballet production of Tennessee Williams’ classic play A Streetcar Named Desire. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performed choreographer John Neumeier’s version in 2012. Now Glasgow’s Scottish Ballet performs the Pittsburgh premiere of its own 2012 British Critics’ Circle award-winning ballet, for one performance, May 19 at the Byham Theater, presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council.
The two-hour narrative ballet, directed by U.K.-based theater/film director Nancy Meckler, with choreography by Colombo-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, depicts a clash of cultures, and lives gone astray. It’s told from Southern belle Blanche DuBois’ point of view and begins with backstory.
“I told [Meckler] there is no past tense in dance movement, so it would be better to do a linear narrative,” says Ochoa, by phone from Cali, Colombia.
Set to a filmic original score by British TV/film composer Peter Salem, the ballet’s first six scenes tell of Blanche’s ill-fated marriage and the deaths of loved ones. Thereafter, the ballet follows the familiar play/movie storyline after she arrives at her sister Stella’s New Orleans apartment and first encounters Stella’s brutish husband, Stanley.
“Tennessee Williams decides what you have to do,” says Ochoa about her approach to the ballet’s choreography. Ochoa, who has created works for Dutch National Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba and Washington Ballet, says she had to rein in her creative urges in order to streamline her theatrical choreography and serve the story. Another challenge was adapting a play with only seven characters for a cast of 26. The solution was to work in group scenes that the play merely references, such as Stella at the bowling alley and Blanche at the train station.
The production has an abstract, contemporary-theater look, using 200 beer crates to create its furniture and scenery. It is also dense with metaphor. A wall of those crates crumbles to represent Blanche’s crumbling life, for instance, and she’s drawn to a lightbulb, referencing her moth-like desire for light and one of the play’s alternate titles, The Moth.
“Blanche is a broken soul,” says Ochoa. “She is a person who gets caught up in her own web of lies trying to leave her troubled past behind and survive.”
Scottish Ballet performs A Streetcar Named Desire, 8 p.m. Tue., May 19; Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-55. 412-456-6666 or www.trustarts.org
This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on May 13, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.