Ilisa Rosal Adapts Tennessee Williams’ ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ For the Flamenco Stage
Flamenco dancer Pepe Flores as Stanley Kowalski in Ballet Flamenco La Rosa’s “Deseo” at the Miami Dade County Auditorium on Saturday, Aug. 19 and Sunday, Aug. 20. (Photo courtesy of Manuel Arce)
“Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” says Blanche DuBois to the unnamed doctor as he escorts her to the asylum at the close of Tennessee William’s 1947 Pulitzer-prize-winning play, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” In her imagination, she believes the doctor is the suitor she has been waiting to come to the door.
The play takes its name from the Desire streetcar line that ran through New Orleans French Quarter where Williams composed the script. The 1951 film version won four Academy Awards and starred Vivian Leigh in the role of Blanche and Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski – the brooding, violent husband of Blanche’s sister, Stella.
Miami flamenco company, Ballet Flamenco La Rosa, further adapts “Streetcar” for the dance stage in “Deseo” (“Desire”) opening Saturday, Aug. 19 at the Miami Dade County Auditorium. “Deseo” anchors the original play’s drama of powerful personalities in the passion and codes of flamenco.
Ballet Flamenco La Rosa was founded in 1985 by choreographer, flamenco dancer and instructor, Ilisa Rosal. Rosal discovered her love of theater and dance growing up in Miami Beach where she trained in ballet and flamenco and performed in local theater productions.
When she was 21, Rosal relocated to New York City when acclaimed flamenco star, José Molina, asked her to dance in his company.
“If I’m going to dance I need to dance when I’m young. I can always do theater when I’m old,” says Rosal during an interview at her North Miami studio. “(I chose flamenco) and never looked back.”
Rosal left New York to pursue flamenco in Spain for the next five years. During that time she studied with many of the greats like the late, renowned gypsy flamenco artist, Manuel Santiago Maya,“Manolete.”
But even as she worked with Spain’s great artists, Rosal was mapping out her next steps.
“I knew I wanted to start a company and start it in the United States,” says Rosal. “I came back to Miami because I had friends and family who could support me here as I was getting started.”
Over the last four decades, Rosal has served as a conduit between Spain and the U.S. bringing dozens of flamenco dancers and musicians to teach and perform in Miami.
She also learned to channel her passion and talents for theater back into dance.
In the early 2000s, she began to present full-length flamenco ballets, adapting works like Euripides’ “The Trojan Women” and Flaubert’s “Herodias” to flamenco.
“Storytelling is the focus and primary thing for me. It is not more prominent than the dancing – it’s a shift,” explains Rosal. “The musicians want to tell the story using a musician logic and the dancers want to use a dance logic.”
Key to flamenco is the intimate relationship that exists between musicians and dancers, and “Deseo” highlights the original compositions and musical talents of flamenco guitarist, Antonio Espanadero, singers Nieves Diaz and Jose Diaz (“El Cachito”), and Rosal’s son and 2015 Berklee College of Music graduate, Jacob George, on blues guitar and vocals.
However, a great work like “Streetcar” requires a high level of dance expertise to perform lead roles effectively. For Rosal, this meant bringing in some performers from places like New York City and Spain.
“Finding the right artist for the right character is the key,” she says.
Rosal found her male lead for “Streetcar” through a chance meeting during one of her trips to Spain in 2016.
She was struck by gypsy flamenco dancer, Pepe Flores’ capacity for strong, dramatic expression. When she had Flores, who was the perfect fit for Kowalski, Rosal decided that she could line up the talent necessary to adapt “Streetcar.”
The play depicts Stanley as a brutish personality and violent toward his pregnant wife, Stella (performed by Teresa Barbero), and her sister, Blanche (performed by Paloma De Vega).
Other notable dancers include Jeranys Perez, as the blind Mexican street vendor, and Fran Bas, as Stanley’s friend and Blanche’s love interest, Harold “Mitch” Mitchell.
Rosal acknowledges the challenges of expressing violence, including sexual assault, through dance.
“I collaborated with the artists to find a delicate way to do this,” she explains.
When asked about the challenges posed by expressing the character of Blanche through flamenco, De Vega emphasized the difficulties of portraying such a complex personality trapped in an impossible situation.
“I found it challenging to play an educated, sophisticated and elegant character that is at the same time so insecure, fragile, vulnerable, frustrated and can find no way out of her tragic situation,” explains the New York-based flamenco dancer and actress.
De Vega started dancing flamenco at age 7 before specializing in Spanish dance and flamenco at the Real Conservatorio Profesional de Danza Mariemma. She then studied choreography at the Conservatorio Superior de Danza María de Ávila.
After her studies in Spain, De Vega moved to New York to dance flamenco and study acting in theater and film supported by a talent scholarship she received from the New York Film Academy.
For De Vega BFLR’s “Deseo” is important because of its willingness to tackle big themes: “The work deals with the victimization of women, and the stigma, lack of empathy and support for mental illness and victims of sexual, psychological and emotional abuse.”
It isn’t the first time that Rosal has taken a Williams classic and translated it into the language of flamenco. In 2018, Ballet Flamenco La Rosa premiered “Verano y Humo,” an adaptation of the playwright’s “Summer and Smoke.”
WHAT: Ballet Flamenco La Rosa’s “Deseo!” Inspired by “A Streetcar Named Desire”
WHERE: Miami Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami
WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday, Aug, 19, and 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 20.
TICKETS: $20 and $37 plus fees
INFORMATION: 305-547-5414 or miamidadecountyauditorium.org
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