Rarely does a bal­let be­gin in a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion

So­nia Ro­driguez in Na­tional Bal­let’s new stun­ner

Thornhill Post - - Arts - by Ron John­son

For ev­ery Nutcracker and Cinderella, the Na­tional Bal­let of Canada of­fers the flip­side of the tutu coin. This month, it’s the Cana­dian pre­miere of the ex­plo­sive bal­let A Street­car Named De­sire, chore­ographed by John Neumeier. A pro­duc­tion that could come with its own warn­ing for graphic sub­ject mat­ter.

The bal­let, based on the Ten­nessee Wil­liams’ play, fea­tures Jur­gita Dron­ina, Svet­lana Lunk­ina and So­nia Ro­driguez danc­ing the role of Blanche DuBois.

It opens where the play ends, with Blanche in a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion. Through her char­ac­ter, dif­fer­ent as­pects of the story are re­vealed through a se­ries of flash­backs.

“In his [ John Neumeier’s] bal­lets, it is an im­pres­sion of what the play is for him,” says Ro­driguez.

“It’s not like watch­ing the play. It’s his ver­sion of that, his im­print. The whole bal­let is through Blanche’s eyes.”

With the bal­let, be­cause the fo­cus is on Blanche, there is a back story to her life we don’t get in the play.

“You do have some idea who she is and where she comes from,” says Ro­driguez. “There is a lot more depth to what her life was like and how she got to be who she is when the play starts.”

Ro­driguez was born in Toronto and as a child moved to Madrid, Spain, where she first learned to dance. She joined the Na­tional Bal­let of Canada in 1990 and was pro­moted to prin­ci­pal dancer in 2000. She lives in For­est Hill with her hus­band Kurt Brown­ing and fam­ily.

One of the rea­sons she was excited to set to work on A Street­car Named De­sire was the op­por­tu­nity to work with Amer­i­can chore­og­ra­pher John Neumeier, re­cently awarded the Prix de Lau­sanne Life Achieve­ment Award.

“He’s one of my favourite of all time,” Ro­driguez ex­plains. “I tend to al­ways hope to be in his bal­lets when we get a chance to have him.”

What the bal­let of­fers dancers is the op­por­tu­nity to hone their dra­matic chops. It’s not just about phys­i­cal move­ments. It’s also about con­vey­ing some se­ri­ous emo­tion.

“What’s won­der­ful about work­ing with bal­lets that John has chore­ographed is that there is al­ways mean­ing and a rea­son for ev­ery sin­gle step and move­ment that you do,” she ex­plains. “Any ac­tion, any step, any ges­ture, it comes from an emo­tional place. There is al­ways an in­tent be­fore you even move.”

One might think there is some risk to adapt­ing a story with names such as Mar­lon Brando and Vivien Leigh firmly at­tached to its his­tory.

But given the na­ture of the story and how it un­folds dif­fer­ently in the bal­let, au­di­ences should be open minded.

“It’s not a copy. It is dif­fer­ent and it’s about her ex­pe­ri­ences,” Ro­driguez says. “He could have picked another char­ac­ter with the same story, and it would be a very dif­fer­ent bal­let.”

The play is di­vided into two acts, one more nos­tal­gic, the se­cond, when the story shifts to New Or­leans, Ro­driguez de­scribes as “more hec­tic and dis­torted.”

She also says the bal­let is “very graphic,” sug­gest­ing that the com­pany is likely to is­sue a warn­ing for younger au­di­ences.

“The play is very raw, and he did not hold back at all with any of the sub­ject mat­ter,” says Ro­driguez.

“It is a very ex­plicit and graphic bal­let, so that is some­thing to keep in mind. There are some shock­ing scenes hap­pen­ing.”

A Street­car Named De­sire runs June 3 to 10 at the Four Sea­sons Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts, na­tional.bal­let.ca.

So­nia Ro­driguez and Guil­laume Côté star in ‘A Street­car Named De­sire’

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