Taking on an iconic role from an American literary classic may seem like a daunting task, but Eve Mutso, principal dancer at Scottish Ballet, is relishing the experience of bringing to life Tennessee Williams’ Blanche DuBois, the fading Southern Belle of A Streetcar Named Desire. Society for the Performing Arts brings Scottish Ballet’s production to Houston on May 15 at the Brown Theater, Wortham Center.
For Mutso, Williams’ play is a timeless work that resonates with audiences across time and space. “I think the play is still very relevant to this day and age, as well as the issues we are dealing with today – domestic violence, alcoholism and mental health, as well as finding your place in society and perhaps realizing that you have to adapt when you can’t keep living the life you were born into.”
Scottish Ballet’s SPA engagement marks the company’s first time in Houston, but the production’s choreographer is no stranger to Houston audiences. Streetcar is choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who most recently created a duet on Houston Ballet principals Connor Walsh and Melody Mennite for the 2015 Dance Salad Festival. It’s Ochoa’s fine sense of character development that allows the layered psychology of Williams’ drama to be rendered through movement. “I find Annabelle’s choreography organic and expressive,” says Mutso. “Storytelling within the simplicity of movements makes the gestures and dialogue really clear. The pauses and silences are necessary to emphasize the atmosphere we are creating and I think that is why members of the audience can really relate to it.”
Before starting work on Ochoa’s choreography, Mutso did her research and studied the original play and its popular 1951 film adaptation. The role of Blanche Dubois isn’t exactly a walk in the park. She represents the waning genteel womanhood of the South, and must grapple with life without money and the assurances her pedigree should afford her. Jessica Tandy won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Blanche in the original Broadway run, while Vivien Leigh won an Oscar for the Elia Kazan film adaptation.
Mutso found herself in the position of having to embody the character without her seminal dialogue, and only through movement. Ochoa’s choreography reflects a particular concert with this character, as she’s given a backstory that is not present in the play or film. Mutso traces Blanche’s trajectory through twenty-eight scenes and finds a character that is more sympathetic than one might expect. “She is a complicated and fragile woman who is a social survivor in my opinion,” she explains. “I know her through and through now, but I can’t help but lose myself in her emotional rollercoaster.”
Blanche is the marquee character, but the play also features three other central figures. In order to adequately portray the individual narratives of each persona, Ochoa decided to build each character using distinct movement qualities. “Our four main characters all have their pattern of movement which characterizes their being,” explains Muzo. “For example, Blanche stays on pointe throughout the ballet and that allows her to stay graceful and stand out from the crowd. You first see her dancing under the bare light bulb and that attraction to light and warmth makes you compare her to the moth, which was Tennessee William’s working title for A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Iconic story aside, Houston audiences who have never seen Scottish Ballet can expect a committed performance from a company in fine form. “We are lucky to have in our company a diversity of dancers, different schooling and the experiences we have gained through various styles of choreography and choreographers.”
Adam Castaneda is a Houston-based arts writer, and also performs with FrenetiCore Dance.