Sunday, February 12, 2012

REVIEW: A Streetcar Named Desire (Ballet) by The Hamburg Ballet

Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Saturday February 4

For the 40th Hong Kong Arts Festival, The Hamburg Ballet brought to Hong Kong two works by its artistic director and chief choreographer John Neumeier: Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler and A Streetcar Named Desire. I chose to see the latter one for I have always admired Neumeier’s unique narrative form and am most interested to see this “translation” of Tennessee Williams’ famous work (thought it premiered in 1983).

For anybody who is familiar with the play or the movie, they may find the first half of the ballet a bit confusing, but will realize after the performance the brilliance of Neumeier in rearranging the sequence. The story gained clarity by not following exactly the play. Instead of showing the arrival of Blanche in New Orleans to visit her sister Stella, the ballet showed Blanche in a room sitting on a bed with her suitcase beside her. This was an intriguing opening as one can’t determine whether she was about to leave or has just arrived and where exactly is the place (unless you read the program already). By the time the ballet ended, it suddenly revealed that the opening scene was actually showing Blanche’s arrival in the asylum and the whole 1st half was her slipping in and out of her troubled past.

Overall, it is a complex ballet with symbolisms and subtext stringed throughout. Helene Bouchet as the troubled Blanche du Bois was alluring and disturbed. The constant inconstant mind of her character was portrayed with amazing technique, care and stamina; and when needed, her body screamed at the audience. Ivan Urban danced Stanley Kowalski and he gave his best to a role that was unfortunately not as well choreographed and crafted as the other roles; and this brings me to my only criticism of the ballet. The dance language given to the role of Stanley Kowalski was almost like a caricature of bad people, he was more comical rather than brutish and sensual.

One of my favorite moments was the rape, it has to be the best “rape-choreography” I have ever seen; and this was because it was able to show how a mentally fragile woman was forced over the edge. The juxtaposition of Prokofiev’s Vision Fugitives, Op.22 (1st half) and Schnittke’s First Symphony (2nd half) was a brilliant choice; as they pretty much defined the dance language and the core psyche of the story. While the story may involve only a few key characters, Neumeier was able to integrate the rest of the company into a seamless, almost integral, part of the narrative; and this was partly due to the dancers’ energy and conviction to each step they took.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Sergey Prokofiev: Visions Fugitives, Op. 22
Alfred Schnittke: First Symphony
Choreography: John Neumeier (based on Tennessee Williams Staging)
Set and costumes: John Neumeier

Dancers include:
Blanche duBois: Helene Bouchet
Stella: Mariana Zanotto
Allan Gray, Alexandr Trusch
Stanley Kowalski: Ivan Urban

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