By the time she'd finished reading A Streetcar Named Desire, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa knew this was "the one", the narrative she could work on for Scottish Ballet's spring commission.

No shilly-shallying, no browsing for other possible dramas, just a visceral response to the Tennessee Williams play: "This story had to be told." She laughs and adds that, aside from the complex characters and turbulent emotions, something else was in its favour: it wasn't a fairytale. "Because I'm not a fairy-tale kind of person."

The half-Colombian half-Belgian choreographer is a sought-after creative force whose theatricality, flair for depicting emotional experiences and richly textured movement vocabulary – contemporary but infused with both the classical ballet and jazz that she herself danced – now grace the repertoires of Dutch National Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet in the US and Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza. Her presence in the Tramway studios of Scottish Ballet, working in tandem with stage director Nancy Meckler, was originally "all in the mind of Ashley Page, Scottish Ballet's artistic director".

Ochoa explains: "He'd wanted something new for the company, something more theatrical. He'd noticed that I work a lot with actors, and that I like to collaborate with people, so, a bit like a blind date, he brought Nancy and myself together. We'd never met before, but luckily we got on. We went to see films and plays together and found we shared the same tastes, and respected what the other person was bringing to this process. This is my first full-length ballet and working with Nancy is definitely a good university. She is so precise and that has definitely been influencing the movement.There's a lot of stillness in this piece because of the underlying psychology – a lot of steps would just take away that tension, and disguise the meaning of what is happening inside Blanche, and what is happening to her."

But without words, how can Blanche express the vortex of guilt, desire, despair and delusion that follow this vulnerable, fading Southern belle from the wreck of her privileged past life to a sweaty, hustling New Orleans and a brother-in-law, Stanley, who will further degrade and abuse her? The word "challenging" hardly seems adequate for what is entailed in making Williams's work speechless but still able to talk vividly to an audience.

"I had said to Nancy that there's no 'past tense' in movement," says Ochoa. "So we had to look at structure. We'd been asked to use the whole company, but there are only seven or eight main characters in the play. So we use the company as a chorus. Even the set is built up by the dancers from 200 crates. Rather like Blanche's life, they keep coming apart and being rebuilt. The music, too, uses themes and motifs. When composer Peter Salem met us for the first time he brought just two-and-a-half minutes of music for us to listen to – 30 seconds of a theme for Blanche, a theme for Stanley – but it was already the journey of the play. I could already see the ballet and how the themes would work with the characters and the situations. It was a great moment – quite a relief, actually."

Even so, there are some aspects of Streetcar that go beyond the usual spectrum of balletic content, and Stanley's brutal rape of Blanche is one of those episodes. Ochoa agrees that it can't be glossed over in a pas-de-deux tussle of showy steps. "I love making duets, but this is a very different duet from anything else I've done. It was very intense to work on, but it's not about the graphic details of someone being raped. It's a power thing – she's losing all control and he's taking over. It's the build-up of those tensions that you have to make the audience feel for themselves."

The responsibility for conveying not just the shock of that moment, but also the complex, conflicting layers within these characters, has seen Eve Mutso as Blanche and Tama Barry as Stanley (pictured) unable to step away from the creative process even when they're at home. Both found the rape scene was, in Barry's words, "very distasteful to do. Afterwards, both of us were a little bit queasy. It left me going home quite angry, agitated, and tetchy – but in a way that's good because it can't ever get to feeling comfortable for us, or for an audience."

Mutso, who has excelled in comedy, as exquisitely good fairies and in abstract ballets by Balanchine and Forsythe, nods. For Blanche, the horror is heightened. "In the scene before, she's in her dreamland pretending that all the men are adoring her. She's on top of the world and then it all crashes. It's intense because of the way dancers can stop time just by looking at each other, making that look last and become so full of tension that the audience feel uncomfortable. I didn't think I could ever do that kind of scene in my career, but here it is. And it is so juicy."

She has warmed to Blanche over the weeks of rehearsal, seeing her very much as "The Moth" – an early title for the play – who, always in her pointe shoes, is drawn to the destructive lure of alcohol, sex and passion. Barry increasingly sees Stanley as a man of his time.

"Back then, it was acceptable to be aggressive, even to beat your wife, but he's not a complete brute. He has good friends and a wife who passionately loves him, so I have to show that there's more to him. That has meant acting almost more than dancing at times. We're not miming gestures to counts in the music, we're listening for moments in the soundscore. There's leeway to express what's inside a character and you have to be in that moment. As dancers, this takes us all further and shows we're good at our total craft. We can gain new ideas from Nancy and Annaballe and tackle something as radically theatrical as Streetcar because as a company, that's what we do: we push ourselves all the time."

Scottish Ballet premieres A Streetcar Named Desire at Glasgow's Theatre Royal on Wednesday, April 11, then tours.

Mark Brown talks to stage director Nancy Meckler in this week's Sunday Herald.