It looks good and sounds great. “A Streetcar Named Desire”, by Ballet British Columbia’s artistic director, John Alleyne, is full of eye-catching, interlacing duets and the fifteen members of Ballet BC perform with confidence and style. BC composer Tobin Stokes’ jazz commission, whether raw and clanging or soft and sweet, supports the choreographer’s intentions, and having it played live by a stellar septet at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre premiere was a bonus. The work is also well supported through Kim Nielsen’s lush but understated set that features a winding, wrought-iron staircase. By the second act, however, the ninety-five-minute, plot-driven ballet loses steam and it becomes apparent that the dark tragedy of the original play is something much lighter and prettier here.
Alleyne and Murrell make one major digression from the original play. In Alleyne’s “Streetcar”, a key event in Blanche’s past — her husband Allan’s suicide over his homosexuality — is kept very much in the present through the introduction of a character called Young Blanche (Makaila Wallace). She appears often with Allan (Jones Henry) and his young friend Cam (Chengxin Wei) who, in the play, is briefly referred to as an older man and, like Allan, is never seen.
From here on, the scenarios involving this trio gain emotional depth and the gun that is continually passed between the ghostly lovers and the present-day Blanche begins to carry dramatic weight and build real tension. When will it be fired? And, for those who don’t remember the play, who will use it? (Answer: Allan.) Wei’s ability to connect dramatically to the other performers — to Henry as Allan, as well as to Orlando and Wallace as the two Blanches– is crucial and doesn’t happen often enough among the other characters in the ballet, particularly between Blanche and Stanley.
Alleyne’s delicate touch is certainly his strength as a choreographer but this is more suited to the character of Blanche, who sways through her role like a willow tree constantly blown about by an ill wind. A more brazen aspect of her character is portrayed when she suggestively thrusts her arm between the legs and up past the crotch of the Paper Boy (James Gnam). An even more explicit moment occurs on the oversized bed that is almost a second stage for numerous dances of desire. Blanche is with the Shady Salesman (Scott Maybank) and somehow his legs become extended behind her and she leans on them as the two rock back and forth in an ungainly coupling.
By Kaija Pepper