Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Stage

Scottish Ballet brings edgy 'Streetcar' to the Straz Center

By Katie Manfred

Times Staff Writer

Ballerinas, an original jazz-inspired score, no dialogue. The Scottish Ballet's performance of A Streetcar Named Desire will be nothing like the Tennessee Williams play or even the 1951 film adaptation.

"This isn't the film, and it's not the play; it's inspired by those things," said director Nancy Meckler in a 2012 webcast panel discussion provided by the dance company. "If you're making ballet you should really feel like you can take off from it, that the play is almost like a launching pad and an inspiration, rather than something that you're trying to serve or copy."

Meckler has never directed a ballet. She is a theater and film director who works as the artistic director for the British company Shared Experience Theatre. But the task does not seem to faze her.

"It's a real treat not to have to use words. I really like a challenge. I find it really fascinating, the idea that you can tell the whole story without the words."

To tell that iconic American story based on the 1947 play about fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois, who escapes to New Orleans to stay with her sister, Stella, and her husband, Stanley, Meckler worked alongside choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. They also worked with Peter Salem, who composed a jazz-inspired score specifically for the production.

"It was a very collaborative process," said Chris Hampson, the artistic director, in a phone interview from Scotland. "Most of the music was composed prior to the rehearsal period, although they were continuing to produce new ideas during the creation. Nancy made sure the flow of the story is being conveyed, and worked with the dancers on character realization."

Hampson explains that even though Meckler was there to steer the ship, dancers are expected to tell the story with their movements. "Dancers are athletes, actors and artists," he says.

But don't arrive at the theater expecting Swan Lake. Streetcar is a classical ballet — dancers will be en pointe — but it has a "contemporary edge."

"That's what we're known for," Hampson says.

Meckler welcomed the dancers' expressive potential with open arms. "Particularly when you are working with actors, the one thing you really miss is the moment when you want someone to go up in the air. So it's been fantastic for me that you can say, 'Oh, you know, wouldn't it be lovely if so-and-so went up in the air,' and up they go. It's second nature to all those people."

No amount of flying, though, could possibly convey the raw emotion that Williams wrote into that iconic Streetcar line, "Stella!" Hampson knew they would need to make an exception to their "no dialogue" rule.

"Yes," Hampson said with a chuckle, "Nancy and Annabelle made a point of working up to that one point."

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