Scottish Ballet brought the Los Angeles audience to their feet with the company’s production of the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. Performed in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as part of the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center series, this was one of the finest theater productions seen here in a very long time. The choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is stunning, the set by Niki Turner is as raw as the play, the dancers are wonderfully versatile, and the direction by Nancy Meckler deserves high praise.

Eve Mutso as Blanche DuBois in Nancy Meckler and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s <i>A Streetcar Named Desire</i> © Andy Ross
Eve Mutso as Blanche DuBois in Nancy Meckler and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s A Streetcar Named Desire
© Andy Ross

A Streetcar Named Desire was written in 1947 by American playwright Tennessee Williams. It won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948 and is considered one of the best plays of the 20th century. It is also considered by many to be Williams’ greatest work. Without having read the play, one would know what is taking place inside of the character’s lives. But, it is not just the dancing that makes this so memorable. It is the acting and the unification of all the production elements. Williams’ play comes alive with only one word being uttered; the iconic name Stella shouted out by dancer Christopher Harrison. This is an emotional tour de force for the ballerina who performs Blanche DuBois, and on this night Eve Mutso surpassed expectations.

Scottish Ballet takes liberty with Williams’ play by creating Blanche and Stella DuBois’ early life in America’s deep south. A glimpse into Blanche’s delicate mental state is demonstrated by her reaching toward a single bare lightbulb that is just out of her reach. As others walk into the space the light expands to reveal a backdrop depicting the Dubois family home surrounded by Spanish moss laden trees. We feel the humidity, meet the father and mother, see Stella leave for New Orleans, attend Blanche’s wedding to Alan and experience Blanche’s anguish after finding Alan with his male lover. The pas de trois between these three handles this complex subject with great sensitivity. Alan’s subsequent suicide triggers Blanche’s descent into alcoholism and insanity.

Thomas Edwards as Alan’s lover and Victor Zarallo as Alan in <i>A Streetcar Named Desire</i> © Andy Ross
Thomas Edwards as Alan’s lover and Victor Zarallo as Alan in A Streetcar Named Desire
© Andy Ross

Choreographer Ochoa demonstrates the passage of time with people simply walking across the stage. As they do, there are subtle changes in costumes and the shifting of environments. It is brilliant staging. The set consists of milk crate boxes painted black, some of which light up to spell out Hotel or to become the footlights for a nightclub stage. Others become furniture. Her pas de deux are exquisite and always focused on the play’s storyline. They are never designed to show off the dancers, but Ochoa stays true to both Williams’ play and to balletic form.

The collapse of the DuBois mansion, her drinking and the demise of her morals leads Blanche to be driven out of town. She travels to New Orleans in a very imaginative portrayal of a passenger train and finds Stella married to the brutish and domineering Stanley. Blanche first meets Stanley at a wonderfully choreographed bowling team playoff. Stanley, who is not happy that Blanche has moved into his home, sets out to destroy the already delicate Blanche.

During a poker game at home, a now pregnant Stella shows her sister New Orleans’s nightlife. Blanche gets drunk and begins to hallucinate about her dead husband Alan. She becomes fixated with death and continues to search out love in seedy hotels until she meets Mitch, who she believes is her last chance at happiness. Stanley exposes Blanche’s past to Mitch and as in many plays about southern women, Blanche is doomed to madness and becomes institutionalized.

Eve Mutso and company dancers in <i>A Streetcar Named Desire</i> © Andy Ross
Eve Mutso and company dancers in A Streetcar Named Desire
© Andy Ross

One must see this production of A Streetcar Named Desire as presented by Scottish Ballet. It is brilliant. I will go out on a limb and call it a masterpiece for choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Her images of death, the ghostly visitations by Alan, and her ability to convey dialogue through movement is truly inspiring. The cast is incredible. Eve Mutso is a gorgeous dancer and an amazing actor, as are the other principles Sophie Laplane as Stella, Victor Zarallo as Alan, Constant Vigier as Alan’s lover, Luke Schaufuss as Mitch and Christopher Harrison as Stanley. Without having seen the second cast perform this ballet, it is hard to imagine anyone else dancing the lead roles of Blanche, Stella or Stanley.

From the smallest role to the most principal one, the cast of A Streetcar Named Desire plays a significant role in breathing life into Williams’ beautiful play. The set and costume design by Niki Turner, music by  Nancy Meckler, lighting by Tim Mitchell, all under the direction of Nancy Meckler have created an evening that will live in the minds of those who see it for years to come.