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DANCE OF ’DESIRE’

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On Sunday, Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts will present two exciting New York City premieres - choreographer Alonzo King’s "Chants" and choreographer Mark Diamond’s two-act, "A Streetcar Named Desire" - both performed by the North Carolina Dance Theatre.

Diamond’s production, based on Tennessee Williams’ play, is set in New Orleans in 1950. It centers on Blanche DuBois, an aging Southern belle who has lost everything, and must seek refuge with her sister, Stella, and Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski. The well-known story that unfolds is the inevitable, steamy conflict between frail, refined Blanche and the brutish, vulgar Stanley.

North Carolina Dance Theatre President and Artistic Director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux told GO Brooklyn that some aspects of the story are even more affecting when danced.

"The play of Tennessee Williams really transforms well into dance," said the former New York City Ballet principal dancer. "Sometimes movements are more expressive than words.

"It’s really almost an old-fashioned way of telling a story, bringing the drama through the movements. Mark Diamond’s ’Streetcar’ is showing the very real world of Stanley and the fantasy world of Blanche," he said. "She really lives a life of fantasy, because the reality is not possible for her to bear."

Diamond, a former dancer for Hamburg Staatsoper, in Germany, as well as the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Milwaukee Ballet Company, has been a full-time choreographer and teacher since 1983.

Rather than use a single composer, Diamond’s two-act "Streetcar" is set to music by Bernard Herrman, Benny Golson, William Christopher Handy, Marty Paich, Darius Milhaud, Cole Porter, Franz Waxman, Igor Stravinsky, Frederic Chopin, Carl Davis, John Williams, Russ Garcia and David Mills.

"I think Diamond was really inspired in his choices of music," said Bonnefoux. "Like Chopin, for example. The romantic music comes just for [Blanche], and that is such beautiful music that people can recognize. It’s so evocative.

"All the music when she’s dancing is very classical, and [Stanley’s] music is very jazz, contemporary, very real. When it’s about her, it’s about fantasy - the way she was before she lost her home, and her husband and her family died. She lives that life again."

Bonnefoux said that Diamond’s placement of upbeat jazz also cleverly serves to fuel the tension.

"The jazz music almost sounds like the mood is light, jazzy and fun and yet it accentuates the drama underneath that," he said. "For Diamond, one composer couldn’t evoke all of those feelings or that percussion, especially in the poker game when you see them doing bravura jumps - very athletic jumps."

Sybil Huskey, of Dance Magazine, described the 2001 world premiere of "Streetcar" performed by the North Carolina Dance Theatre, as having "power-packed solos of male bonding and competition."

Story ballets such as Diamond’s "Streetcar" require dancers to take on the added challenge of inhabiting a character.

"Blanche is one of the most interesting and complex roles in the theater," said Bonnefoux. "It’s a tribute to a dancer to give them such a role." Blanche will be performed at Brooklyn Center by Traci Gilchrest, formerly of the Hartford Ballet and Ballet Arizona.

"She’s very aristocratic," said Bonnefoux. "You really can imagine she’s Blanche, although she happens to come from Texas. She’s very elegant and really does drama. She really expresses it so well. She’s a beautiful woman, as was Vivian Leigh in the play. It’s very real what’s happening to her."

Uri Sands, a former principal dancer with Alvin Ailey who recently joined North Carolina Dance Theatre, dances the role of Stanley.

"He’s a powerful dancer," said Bonnefoux. "He is masculine. He just stands there and you know he’s an athlete. He’s real, and when he starts to dance it’s very expressive and he has an amazing jump."

Of course, the play couldn’t be exactly translated into dance, and Bonnefoux said that one of Diamond’s innovations was to represent the people that Blanche has lost in her life as ghosts that visit her.

"Now that world is finished for her, a dress is all that’s left," said Bonnefoux. "Now she has to live in the house with her sister, but through fantasy she still feels important. Here there is a big difference between the two worlds - the one that’s lived and the other that is imagined."

"A Streetcar Named Desire" will be joined on the program by the New York City premiere of choreographer Alonzo King’s "Chants."

Danced to traditional, a cappella music from Ghana, Zaire, Guinea, Senegal, Tanzania and Kenya, "Chants" is a contemporary ballet, according to Bonnefoux.

"That’s really what is very strong with the company," Bonnefoux said of works by King and other choreographers in their repertoire. "It’s good to show these other ballets. In ’Streetcar’ the few leads have lots to do, but when you see ’Chants’ you have a better idea of the strength of the whole company and the individual strengths of the members of the company."

"I think Alonzo King’s one of the best nowadays," he said. "The work for the women is still en pointe, but the way the body moves is very expressive, very contemporary."

King is the artistic director of San Francisco’s LINES Ballet and has created ballets for more than 50 companies including the Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Frankfurt Ballet, Washington Ballet and Hong Kong Ballet. He has also choreographed works for prima ballerina Natalia Makarova and for actor Patrick Swayze’s 2001 film "Without a Word."

With talents like King and Diamond behind the scenes and talents like Gilchrest and Sands on stage, it’s clear that North Carolina Dance Theatre’s two premieres at Brooklyn Center are one of the important, must-see events in New York City’s 2002-2003 dance season.

 

Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College presents the North Carolina Dance Theatre’s production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and Alonzo King’s "Chants" on March 2 at 2 pm at the Walt Whitman Theater, one block from the junction of Nostrand and Flatbush avenues. Tickets are $30. For more information, call (718) 951-4500 or visit the Web site at www.brooklyncenter.com.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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