From Downtown to in town, we find ourselves in a new part of Chicago: Harris Theater. Situated on (in?) Millennium Park, and a day before our return journey home, how appropriate it is that our final show of the trip comes from Scottish Ballet: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire‘.
Why see them in your home country, when its residency is literally an hour’s train journey away, when you can see them many thousands of miles away instead? (It definitely had nothing to do with missing out on tickets when it premiered).
Ignoring the backchat of “I’ve never liked ballet shows, so this is weird” and the myriad of pre-show alcohol that may or may not have induced the giggly nature of our company, the piece begins with Blanche flitting under a low, solitary light-bulb. Other than a fitting motif for such a troubled character, the inspiration for this moment stems from Blanche’s entrance and stage direction in the original text: “Her delicate beauty must avoid strong light. There is something about her uncertain manner, as well as her white clothes, that suggests a moth”. Paraphrasing Streetcar’s director, there is layer upon layer of significance of this motif. When you think of Tennessee Williams’ piece, for many it is the film that spring to mind. Images of Marlon Brando rippling through many a snug shirt, and Vivien Leigh‘s chiffon-coated chaos swirling together across our screen. The rage and turmoil between them fuels the film, engraves itself in our memories and, in turn, obscures the more putrid elements of the story. The rape is implied; Stella’s relationship with Stan is destructive and toxic; Blanche’s fragility is unbearable. Perhaps its just me, but thanks to the film, I had forgotten how centred the story truly is around Blanche and her sorry existence. Yes, it is about misfortune as a whole, with many an example, but Blanche is fundamentally at its core, and that had completely escaped my mind. That is why this moth-like moment is utter perfection, and is the only part I feel is necessary to describe, because it says everything by saying so little. You almost have no need for the rest of the performance – almost. As someone whose trade is in dance (ballet and breakdance), I am endlessly fascinated by the skill and craft of ballet, but it is not a form I enjoy using to express a story. Thanks to the above training, however, I now often blend the two because of how long I spent in the studio – while dance gave my the clickety feet, ankles and knees, I never made it to blocks, and I’m not sure I have problem with that. The reason I’m mentioning this is that this piece did the same. Ok, they weren’t popping and head spinning, but it wasn’t strictly ballet technique either. I primarily use my blend of ballet and street as release these days (not that I would say no for a performance), so to see what I can only term as “modern” ballet in place of typically repertoire skill, and not too disimilar to my own method, was a little bit exciting. Not completely convinced, however, that voice (read: “Steeellaaa!”) should be making its way into the craft. I’m citing mild laziness in place of actually physicalising the famous quote. They did everything else so well.
All in all, the set – stunning. The music – well-chosen. The dancers – apart from Blanche being taller than everyone else, wonderful. There are many contemporary companies out there changing the face of ballet and stripping away the elite label from it, it just so happens that when an established company does it, it means its having an effect. I’m just glad to have finally seen it, even if it was across the pond.