A Streetcar Named Desire – Ballet in Budapest

The Erkel Theatre is Hungary’s largest performance building, that opened in 1911 and welcomed on its stage the most prestigious voices in the operatic realm, such as Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Éva Marton and Grace Bumbry. After a thorough renewal process, assisted by the Hungarian government, today the Erkel Theatre holds a variety of performances including the ones that would otherwise take place at the Magyar Állami Operaház, that is currently closed for renovation and is scheduled to reopen in early 2019.

Recently, an enthralling and touching ballet version of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire took place at the Erkel Theatre. The sublime pointe adaptation of Blanche DuBois’ drama, is drenched with the symbolisms belonging to the original play — from the lanterns that she uses to cover the lightbulbs to conceal her age, to the bathtub where she lounges to fend off the phantoms of her tormented past.

Stanley’s poker games, Stella’s attachment to the childhood memories with her sister, Blanche’s nostalgia towards the grandeur of the Southern life in Belle Reve, intertwine in the bewitching choreography by Marianna Venekei. The First Ballet Master worked for many years with composer-saxophonist László Dés, to bring to life this extraordinary production.

New Orleans of the 1940s is one of the great protagonists of the performance, as the jazzy rhythm and modern ballet emphasize the setting of the story. Lea Földi conveys the tender madness that distinguishes Blanche’s character: she is flighty in movement and frail in appearance. Blanche’s airiness is played by Földi with great sensitivity, as she displays the character’s nervous gestures, with tension and sentiment. She fully embodies that ethereal creature that Tennessee Williams had conceived — the play was originally supposed to be called The Moth.

Iurii Kekalo, dances as Stanley Kowalski with impetuousness and vigor, portraying his vicious temper, and the fights with his wife that even lead to domestic violence. The only moment in which the ballet becomes vocal, is when Kekalo yells the iconic “Stellaaaa” — that was made legendary by Marlon Brando’s performance in Elia Kazan’s film. As the media currently focuses on femicide and violence against women, this moment in the story sends shivers down the spine of viewers. This issue is further enhanced in the rape scene, when Földi and Kekalo represent a disquieting confrontation between genders, as the disoriented Blanche is assaulted by the domineering Stanley.

The delicate and indecisive Stella, torn between the love for her sister and her devotion towards her husband, is suavely played by Anna Krupp. Also Mark James Biocca dances empathetically, as he plays Mitch. He skillfully represents, through dance, the juxtapositions of his character: initially drawn by Blanche’s charm and ultimately deluded, when he discovers her promiscuous past.

The conclusive scene where the entire cast is engaged in a perturbing danse macabre — where Blanche is envisioning episodes of her life, as she is bathing in what could either represent a cradle or a coffin — is utterly overwhelming. At this point we fully feel that, “Any of us can become Blanche,” as Venekei states. Anyone can be caught in a pitfall by choosing to go down the wrong path in life. Even a single bad decision can be fatal. And the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 play is emblematic in portraying this.

The Venekei-Dés ballet A vágy villamosa (the Hungarian title for A Streetcar Named Desire) at Erkel Theatre, fully captures the essence of Blanche DuBois, who as “the moth” is drawn towards the light, attracted by truth and innocence, but is finally overpowered by the delusional unsympathetic darkness that she finds on her way.