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Ballet by John Neumeier based on Tennessee Williams

A Streetcar Named Desire

To be read before the performance

While working on the "Kameliendame" a friend of mine made the spontaneous suggestion that for my next Stuttgart project I create the rôle of Blanche DuBois for Marcia Haydée. The idea of transforming "A Streetcar Named Desire" into a ballet was, in fact, never far from my mind. Every one of Tennessee Williams' works seems a possible inspiration for a new ballet in view of their essentially poetic quality.

For me "A Streetcar Named Desire" is one of the greatest works of American literature. What I find so interesting, so fascinating, about the play is that special southern atmosphere and the particular problems it deals with—specific problems of the Southern American states. "Streetcar" is a subject (and was a film) that I've been familiar with since my youth and that has formed a very important part of my own literary as well as theatrical education. A multitude of characters from Tennessee Williams' works are familiar to me. I know them well and at one point even considered creating a ballet based not just on "A Streetcar Named Desire" but on a collection of plays by Tennessee Williams. A "Tennessee Williams project"—a ballet which I would have called "The End Of The Line", in which characters from his various plays appear, meeting within a fine network of relationships linking them all to one another. But several European friends of mine warned that these figures aren't sufficiently well known outside of America to be recognized. Nonetheless, the content, the message and the inner life of all his plays can and should be understood on a universal human level. The inner life is far deeper than its "American" exterior. But precisely this exterior, his world, is unmistakably American and for that reason I couldn't imagine a stage designer who wasn't American creating the sets and costumes for this piece. Interestingly enough, the two composers I selected are Russians —but again, their music corresponds to the inner life of the piece.

As soon as the idea of the "Streetcar" ballet was born, I couldn't wait to visit New Orleans to start researching the specific atmosphere and sketching out the visual images of the new ballet. That's not to say that I imagined a realistic reconstruction of New Orleans for the stage. Quite the opposite; the story must be told essentially through movement. But it's important for me to have stood on those streetcar tracks in New Orleans, which for Blanche DuBois represented the end of the line...

My ballet is not a word for word translation of Tennessee Williams' play. "A Streetcar Named Desire" was the source of my inspiration but as a choreographer I use a completely different medium of expression. I must realize this story using visual, physical movement images. Elia Kazan's production notes regarding Blanche explain that: "We can only understand her behaviour when we come to recognize the role that her past plays in her present behaviour." Agreeing completely, I have no option but to change Tennessee Williams' chronological structure for my ballet. It is impossible to dance "the past". In ballet the past must become visible present, which is why I start where the play ends and allow Blanche once again to show us her journey, through memories and madness, to the end of her own line.

John Neumeier


Musik: Sergej Prokofjew, Alfred Schnittke
Choreography, Staging, Set, Costumes and Light: John Neumeier

2 hours | 1 intermission

Premiere:
Stuttgart Ballet, Stuttgart, December 3, 1983
Premiere in Hamburg:
Hamburg Ballet, April 30, 1987

On Tour:
1988 Milwaukee 1989 Leverkusen 2010 Baden-Baden 2012 Hong Kong

In the Repertory:
Stuttgart Ballet
The Norwegian National Ballet
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

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Synopsis

I – BELLE REVE

Asylum
Blanche DuBois, haunted by madness and memories:
Men
Her Wedding at Belle Reve
Her husband Allan Gray
The tragic end of their wedding day
Belle Reve falls into decay
Flamingo Hotel

II – NEW ORLEANS

End of the line
Blanche remembers the visit to her sister Stella, in New Orleans:
Stella changed
Conflict with Stella’s husband Stanley
A rescue attempt with Stanley’s friend Mitch
Blanche’s past is laid open by Stanley
Flight – to where?
Rape
Stepping out of reality Asylum

from John Neumeier's New Orleans diary, 1983

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