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Telling a Story of Illusions

We had nothing planned for Saturday night but glimpsed an ad in The Globe, that there was seating availability for Streetcar Named Desire at the Four Seasons Opera Hall. We had missed ballet with our trips to San Diego, and I was hopeful we might procure tickets. Interrupting his Pilates session, Howard managed to get us two Rush tickets for the evening.

Of course we are familiar with Tennessee Williams, but as we tried to untangle the stories of Streetcar and Glass Menagerie , we realized that they shared quite a few elements: the family plantation in ruins, two sisters, illusions of a past life, promiscuity, a failure to adapt, and the presence of memory. We were fortunate that Sonia Rodriguez and Guillaume Cote were dancing Blanche and Stanley. So different to a classical ballet with pas de deux and reverie( French for jumps!!!), this production was story- based and moved along by the graceful interactions of the entire ballet corps. I felt I had entered a painting created in the first act in pastels, organza skirts ruffling, shuttered doors opening and closing against the softly draped arcades of the disintegrating family home, Belle Reve. Themes of wedding, homosexual attraction and self- doubt emerged from the tableau. Through it all, Blanche fluttered and preened , the centre of the tale in John Neumeier’s 1983 adaptation.Still black lace ghosts grounded the background, deathly personifications, and psychological overhangs of the doomed South.

In the next act, a stark contrast as we watch the French Quarter in New Orleans come to life in the 50’s, postWWIi: a Stuart Davis painting as the figures snapped their fingers, jerked up their shoulders, their movements angular but in tune with a life juxtaposed to the graceful decaying south, the music by Scnittje Symphony I, loaded and overlaid with contrasts.. Here Stanley Kowalski, Brando’s nemesis, is the rough, sexual, chest pounding guy, powerful and ignorant, a true stereotype, unable to tolerate Blanche’s posing and her deceptions, in particular her affectations, even covering a raw light bulb with a paper fixture to soften the harshness of the light she cannot tolerate.Their confrontations, of the faded ruined past and the stark too bright present is on the inevitable collision course as Blanche attempts to reconcile both in a relationship with Stanley’s friend Mitch.

 Asserting his American male dominance, Stanley must crush and painfully destroy Blanche, raping her. This segment in the ballet is incredibly conceived, Stanley’s red pyjamas, his muscular legs intertwined, straight as arrows, overpowering the fluttery birdlike legs of the aging debutant. His legs are the scissors, severing all ties with the past. For several moments we are unable to breath as Stanley inflicts his punishment on Blanche, for her attempt to drag Mitch from his world into hers. Beyond revenge, it is Stanley’s delight, his raisin d’être to punch, destroy and erase beauty: the machine age personified. His brash flashy green silk jacket, the fighter’s trophy that easily taunts and tramples the flowered bedsheets and fluttery robes with which Blanche had attempted to soften Her version of life,. Her loss of everything she has clung to( home, youth, notions of tradition) is torn away mercilessly, his prowess dominating is brutally danced out, trounced in terror and physicality that brings ballet into another realm – so much more than overloaded cream puffs that one drama head at Westview Centennial used to describe ballet..

Although the main characters have their moments, Streetcar Named Desire is truly an ensemble piece as the smaller roles, even the sailors on beds taunting names, the asylum keepers, the organza- draped bridesmaids and jazz dancers in their sequins contribute immeasurably to create the story of loss. There is so much to look at. The seduction dance between Blanche’s first husband and lover , dressed in black and white suits, as they attempt to come to terms with their feelings is standout, the inevitable outcome of Blanche’s illusory attraction foreshadowed by his reticence, teasing and magnetic desire to overcome societal inhibitions. Without a word spoken( ok, a few call out slanders) and even with no music in segments of the Prokofiev score in Act 0ne, we enter the world of the Deep South and we know it through dance.

Similarly although we do not hear the cacophonous blaring horns of New York, the squarish moves, the tumult of crowds, demonstrations and the fight ring pushes the 50’s into our laps.

The overall vision is imaginative, honest to its times and artfully depicted. We mourn the loss of Beau Reve along with Blanche’s illusions but know that a new era, one perhaps in league with the roughness of a Trump, is not far away


Revisiting The Little Prince

“Taming means more than the literal act of domesticating an animal; it’s about experiencing , be it romantic or platonic, and the perils and rewards that come with it. Once you grow close to someone else, you risk experiencing loss, “How the National Ballet brought Le Petit Prince to life. “Globe June 4, p 1.

The widespread attention to Antoine de Saint- Exupery’s novella seems to have burst everywhere this spring- from movies to games and ballets. Martha Schabas’ criticism in The Globe and Mail of the performance suggested a commercialism as opposed to a focus on the ballet, akin perhaps to the National Ballet’s production of Alice in Wonderland ( also  revived everywhere in film and theatre) which there was an emphasis on entertainment, surprise contraptions rather than highlighting the pas- de- deux. Setting and costume were lauded, dancing as well, but this season I cannot know.The ticket prices soared to $175 for Prince and the actual availability was sparse, so I will have to await responses from friends fortunate enough to have seen the production to speculate.


I do know and cherish the book. It was a mantra that caused me untold happiness because it was introduced to me by my first real friends at university.It fortified an emotional girl often ridiculed for being “ too sensitive”: that only with the heart that one sees correctly. It designated that one must meet on a regular basis to truly engage in the process of knowing someone else, setting out specific parameters and demands. It disparaged the pursuits, ignorance and arrogance of diverse classes of people; and it encapsulated what I had always believed,cementing my philosophical view on life. I had read Machiavelli, agreed with Pascal’s Pensees, even been enamoured by St. Augustus; however, the simplicity of The Little Prince, seared my soul in a way that no other had. It was my cadre’s secret book in the 60’s a guide against the rich and snobbish.mIt just cut through so directly to what I recognized to be wisdom. 

Much like coveted books,there are those phrases and sentences we make our own through reading, or possibly bon mots from films, and we keep them close, sharing them when they are suggested by events or scenes in our life; they resonate and actually echo in our heads, enlivening and enhancing the moments that stand alone and provide pause.The lovely Philip Roth sentence regarding surface is one , my husband treasures.  

That is the way with poetry too. As elementary school students, poetry was intended to test our memories so, in grade 4, we had to accumulate a certain number of lines by the end of the year, practicing out loud in front of the class, allowed to select long passages or several rhyming couplets as long as we fulfilled the magic number. To this day when I see a grey squirrel, the image that jumps at me originates from those days and reminds me that the grey squirrel is like a teapot, ( although he is NOT).. Similarly a loud noise evokes Vachel Lindsay’s”Boomlay, boomlay,boomlay,boom…”. And the sweet delicacy of Louis MacNeice’s “spit the pips” from his poem Snow are the bits that flutter into my consciousness,totally unbidden. 

When I had to select a poem to teach as a beginning teacher I had vague memories of Henry Reed’s Naming of Parts and the contrasts of the recruit enchanted by flowers in the midst of having to memorize the names and functions of gun parts. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned the lank and gawky body of a languid boy gazing at japonica outside his window on a spring day. Reed laces killing and procreation as the juxtaposition of bees and swivels, slings, bolts and safety- catches, underlining the contradictions to be faced by the youth. 

Throughout life, William Butler Yeats’ lost love of Maude Gonne and Pied Beauty  by Gerard Manley Hopkins have been my companions reinforcing some of life’s lessons: beauty in difference ; we will not always be loved back by those we desire; and there is an intrinsic beauty between form and function . Poets and artist give us the handles, providing us and expressing our emotions bigger and best than we mere mortals could.They wrestle with to commandeer the words to describe and symbolize what we hint at and feel, making them loom larger and helping us put outside our mere selves the ideas. I never thought while daydreaming in those stodgy leafy classrooms that I would be so imprinted by images that have become my walking companions. They have spoken for me, held me up, given me a place to hear what often were tangled, confused and painful emotions. 

Alternately they have been a way to sing out, a catalogue of people and observations, a stream of delight. Best of all, I loved Walt Whitman’s words”Do I contradict myself? Very well,I contradict myself…” for, as we are all full of opposing views,contrary notions, complicated cares, thoughts and emotions that do not coalesce, we often do not make wrongs into a right.So if I contradict myself, well, so be it. 

As the years flow by, we stand on the shores surveying what we have collected over time. The possessions that have contributed to our sense of self, taught and reassured us- often as we have stood against a popular tide. Once we looked to the books that lined our shelves that reflected where we had gone and what had contributed to our growth. Today those tomes are dwindled as Kobo and Kindle give us a page that disappears once our eyes have passed over it. The evidence rests in our hearts and minds and if we want to revisit, we must search on Google, should we be able to pinpoint the phrase, the word, the idea.  

Life changes, but the longing to hold a book in one’s hand and escape somewhere new or different does not. I assume Gatsby also yearned for the multicoloured backdrop of books, even though his were covers with blank pages. I suppose he felt they attested to his character. Perhaps now the reverse is true; however, coming upon a line that has demarcated in an old book or noting a comment beside a sentence brings one back to a time and a place we might have truly forgotten. I think that making a mark is important , the actual act of stopping, considering and responding before the thought has slipped away meaningful.Perhaps that is why I love art. Making the mark records and connects a person to something else and that connection can spark a revelation. 

For me, I will always treasure the words of the The Little Prince- and welcome its journey back from the shelves where it was not lost, but hiding. 

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