They almost had to hose down the audience at intermission of Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire at the Harris Theater in Chicago on Thursday night. Erik Cavallari’s Stanley had just had make-up sex with Sophie Martin’s Stella, and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s imaginative way with the erotic pas de deux had everyone hot and bothered.
In a welcome departure from the one-note depictions of sex in the male-dominated world of ballet, the tiny, sinewy Martin calls the shots in this scene.
This is not a relationship that is likely to end well but, for now, Stella is in control, as she is at the mournful end of this Southern gothic tragedy, when she makes the anguished decision to commit her sister Blanche to a mental asylum. The sensual Martin is magnificent throughout, a firecracker. Cavallari, stocky and ripped, plays the sexual predator with attention to the small but explosive details of body language, wisely avoiding caricature – not an easy feat when you must swagger in the footsteps of Marlon Brando.
Having decided, in tandem with stage director Nancy Meckler, to flesh out Blanche DuBois’ backstory, to unravel the narrative and present it in chronological fashion, Lopez Ochoa rose to the challenge of portraying the assorted sex acts that, in Tennessee Williams’ 1947 classic, take place offstage, or are mentioned only in passing in the dialogue. She draws expertly and seamlessly from a range of dance styles, never straying far from classical ballet, in a manner that flaunts the dramatic and technical flair of this handsome company.
Beyond the inventive uniting of drama, dance, score and set design to illuminate Williams’ psychological melodrama and caustic social commentary, this Streetcar brilliantly evokes the 19th century Romantic classic Giselle, in which a good-hearted peasant girl is driven to madness by the betrayal of a deceitful, two-timing aristocrat.
Ivor Guest could have had Blanche DuBois in mind when he recapped the first Act of Giselle, centered on “the fragility of the heroine, her mind balanced between reason and madness.” Though Blanche is the aristocrat in Williams’ tale, she is twice betrayed – first by her secretly gay husband, and then by the working class Stanley, who resents her highfalutin ways, offended by the reminder that his wife comes from the same stock. The droit du seigneur exercised by the duplicitous Count Albrecht is here remodeled into the hypocrisy very much alive in 1940’s America, that allowed men to sow their wild oats and to treat their wives like possessions, while branding women who had sex outside marriage as damaged goods, outcasts, even insane.
Peter Salem’s heady score veers from lush, decorous waltzes to a hypnotic minimalist brume, fragments of New Orleans jazz and jukebox, occasionally shattered by the shrapnel of industrial sounds.
Catch Scottish Ballet on the rest of its American tour, through May 30th: click here to check tour dates for San Antonio, Houston, Pittsburgh, Charleston and Washington, DC.