By Dottie Ashley

Anyone who has ever read or seen “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play later adapted into a film, may be surprised to learn that a version of this Pulitzer Prize-winning work will be performed by the Scottish Ballet during the 2015 Spoleto Festival USA.

Celebrating its 39th season, Spoleto, with a $7.2 million budget, will present 28 productions and 152 events, with the Chamber Music Series — which presents 33 concerts at the Dock Street Theatre — counted as just one event. The 17-day arts extravaganza will take place in various venues throughout the city of Charleston and in several surrounding sites, from May 22 through June 7. The opening ceremony for the festival will be held at noon May 22 in front of the City Hall on Broad Street, which will be blocked off to traffic so that folding chairs may be set up in the street for the public.

Having watched a lyrical performance of the Scottish Ballet at the 1986 Spoleto Festival, I must admit I was a bit taken aback by the announcement that this highly respected troupe, known for its precision in performing classical dance, was to interpret the storyline of a legendary American drama famous for its amazingly evocative dialogue.

In his book “The History of Southern Drama,” theatrical scholar Charles S. Watson notes that the conversations in “Streetcar” effectively illustrate how “sensuality is often contradicted, in the Old South, by over-refinement … as Blanche DuBois compares a refined way of life at a family plantation with the cramped New Orleans apartment of her married sister, Stella.”

In a YouTube interview, Nancy Meckler, director of the piece, along with choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, noted that this version of “Streetcar” is performed without words — except for the yelling of “Stella” by the dancer portraying Stanley Kowalski, Blanche’s crude brother-in-law, a role made famous by Marlon Brando in the film.

As unlikely as it may appear, in presenting this wordless interpretation of a work famous for its words, Spoleto Festival General Director Nigel Redden is continuing a tradition set by Gian Carlo Menotti, who, upon founding the festival in Charleston in 1977, stated that a major goal for Spoleto was to “present a mix of performing arts genres in unorthodox ways.”

In an interview describing the Scottish Ballet’s tour of the United Kingdom which was launched in 2012, choreographer Ochoa explained, “At one point, Williams was going to title his play, ‘The Moth,’ because Blanche, like a moth, is hauntingly attracted to a light bulb, which can burn a human and kill a moth; thus, unlike in the chronology of Williams’ play, this ballet version opens by showing Blanche as a beautiful young girl dancing under a light bulb, with the light ostensibly representing desire.”

Director Meckler interjected: “Some people view ballet as irrelevant; however, through movement, alone, we show violence against women; despair, loneliness and cruelty — all extremely timely topics today.”

The ballet will be performed by 30 dancers in four performances, accompanied by Peter Salem’s jazzy score, at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre.

Romeo and Juliet

As the longest running presentation of the 2015 festival, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre company will present its American debut of a newly crafted version of the timeless tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet,” in 19 performances at the Dock Street Theatre.

Renowned for its authentic yet bold productions, the theater company occupies London’s rebuilt Globe Theatre, situated in the venue that Shakespeare originally called home. The play will be co-directed by Dominic Dromgole and Tim Hoare.

Following the 3:30 p.m., May 23, performance, Martha Teichner, a CBS “Sunday Morning” correspondent, will conduct interviews with various artists from the Globe as part of her “Conversations With” series to take place at the Charleston Library Society, 164 King St. The event is free and open to the public.

Additional festival highlights

The world premiere of the contemporary opera “Paradise Interrupted,” designed and directed by artist Jennifer Wen Ma, composed by Huang Ruo and conducted by John Kennedy, will star Chinese singer Qian Yi.

The American premiere and the first performance in more than 350 years of Francesco Cavalli’s baroque opera “Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona,” directed by Stefano Vizioli and designed by Italian artist Ugo Nesplo, will be presented in a festival-commissioned, staged edition by conductor Aaron Carpene. Also, the Bank of America Chamber Music Series led by Geoff Nuttall will feature, among numerous other concerts, the world premiere of a classical music composition by the 2015 festival composer-in-residence Mark Applebaum.

Theatrical productions will include Italy’s famed Carlo Colla and Sons Marionette Company presenting “Sleeping Beauty,” performed by 165 handcrafted marionettes telling a story in English amid excerpts from a Tchaikovsky ballet score. Australia’s “Casus Circus” will stage an acrobatic display titled “Knee Deep,” while Canada’s 2btheatre company will enact the award-winning play “When It Rains.” Also, The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre from Vietnam will perform a play designed to fascinate audience members of all ages.

Additional dance highlights

The American Express Woolfe Street Series, in the Woolfe Street Playhouse in downtown Charleston, will feature the world premiere of the piece, “What Moves You,” performed by nationally recognized, innovative choreographer and dancer Lil Buck, partnered with celebrated cellist Ashley Bathgate.

Also, the Trisha Brown Dance Company returns to the festival with four distinctly diverse works: “If you couldn’t see me,” “Rogues,” “PRESENT TENSE,” and “Set and Reset,” using music by Laurie Anderson and costumes designed by celebrated artist Robert Rauschenberg.

Other choreographic events will include the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Dance Series, which will sponsor the Shen Wei Arts group in its celebrated modern-movement presentation titled “Map,” along with a new piece, “Untitled #12,” which was initially conceived as a work featured at Art Basel Miami Beach.

Wells Fargo Jazz

Four-time Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves will perform songs from her latest album, “Beautiful Life,” with elements of Latin, R&B and pop music; Brazilian singer Monica Salmaso will present two concerts, joined by pianist Nelson Ayers and American singer-composer Madeleine Peyroux will make her festival debut with two concerts both consisting of classics and pop numbers.

An Italian duo featuring vocalist Petra Magoni and Bassist Ferruccio Spinetti will fuse jazz, rock, punk and classical music. Also, Italians Rita Marcotulli and Luciano Biondini, a pianist and accordionist respectively, both of whom are renowned on the European jazz scene, will perform six concerts in the Simons Center at the College of Charleston.

A day-long finale will include the Alabama-based seven-piece soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones to perform at Middleton Place Plantation near Charleston on June 7.

Spoleto Festival USA tickets may be purchased online at spoletousa.org; by phone at 579-3100 or in person at Spoleto’s 14 George St. headquarters.

Ashley’s picks for the upcoming weeks

The 2015 Piccolo Spoleto Festival, a local event accompanying Spoleto Festival USA, will sponsor several hundred performing and visual arts events sponsored by the Charleston City Office of Cultural Affairs, May 22 through June 6. The jazz cruises promise a unique setting for culture.

On May 26, the Franklin Ashley Jazz Quintet will perform music from “The Great American Songbook,” featuring pianist Franklin Ashley; Mark Sterbank, tenor saxophone; Teddy Adams, trombone; Rich Robinson, drums; Brian Reed, bass and vocalist Becca Hodges. They will perform songs by Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis and others.

On May 31, Lonnie Hamilton and the John Tecklenburg Jazz Ensemble will feature vocalist Lyndsey Moynihan; Steve Berry, trumpet; Jamie Harris, bass and Gerald Williams, drums, performing a variety of jazz standards and R&B. Also, on June 2, the Joe Clarke Quartet will perform jazz standards and on June 4, contemporary violinist “Daniel D” will lead his Urban Instrumentalist Band.

Boarding for the jazz cruises will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Aquarium Wharf, 360 Concord St. with departure at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25, with snacks and drinks available for purchase. Tickets may be purchased at the wharf 30 minutes before departure, or by calling 1 (866) 811-4111 or online at piccolospoleto.com.

Dottie Ashley is the arts columnist for the Charleston Mercury and the only newspaper journalist to win the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, which she received in 2003, for her statewide coverage of the arts. She is also winner of the American Dance Festival month-long fellowship at Duke University and of the month-long Eugene O’Neill Theatre Critics Fellowship in Connecticut.

 

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