Carolina Ballet’s Dracula has all the elements of a big screen blockbuster: action, drama, suspense, gore, and sex. But it also has all the elements of a great classical ballet. Like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, Carolina Ballet’s Dracula is a well told story with timeless appeal.
Dracula is preceded by the opening ballet, Robert Weiss’s Masque of the Red Death, based on Edgar Allen Poe’s popular story. The story begins with the costume ball. Prince Prospero (Timour Bourtasenkov) and His Consort, The Duchess (Melissa Podcassy) have just opened their house after a six month lock-down to avoid infection by the plague. Even though Carolina Ballet’s finest are featured, the short ballet lacks cohesion and energy. I was still waiting for the ballet to really get started when the The Red Death, danced by Gabor Kapin, crawled out from under the party guests victorious in the final scene.
Pablo Javier Perez and Margaret Severin-Hansen dance the Joker and Jokerette. Although it is nice to see Severin-Hansen in a playful role like this, it isn’t the show-stopping performance she often delivers. Lara O’Brien is captivating in the role of Arabian Princess with Arabian Prince Eugene Barnes. When she dances with several male guests at once, however, the choreography is excessive, and what should be long, languid fluidity becomes rushed, incomplete and awkward. The lead role, The Red Death, seems like it should get some mention, but the role might as well be a metaphor for all the dancing Kapin does.
In contrast, choreographer Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s adaptation of Dracula is energetically danced with short scenes seamlessly woven together. The gripping story of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is well-known, which makes the ballet accessible to a wide audience. The unusual addition of a narrator, Dr. Seward, played by Alan Campbell assists in the movement of the story. With his compelling voice he moves from soliloquy to silent interaction with the dancers to effectively bring the audience right into the action.
Marcelo Martinez dances the part of Count Dracula, and the role is a perfect fit. His presence on stage has all the ominous charm and charisma of Dracula. Martinez shows a great range of expression and a balanced combination of grace and athleticism.
Lucy Westerna is passionately danced by Lilyan Vigo. We witness her transition from a young innocent girl preparing for marriage, to a vampire seductress. Eventually the man she had loved, Arthur Holmwood, danced by Attila Bongar, is forced to stab her with a wooden stake.
Margaret Severin-Hansen gives an authentic and sympathy-inspiring performance as Mina Harker, Lucy’s friend. Mina gets dangerously close to Dracula despite her husband Jonathon Harker’s (Gabor Kapin) efforts to keep her safe. Kapin’s stirring and expressive performance of his role in Dracula gives him the movement on the stage he doesn’t seem to get as The Red Death.
Dark comic relief comes in the form of Renfield, prophetic mental patient, and is acrobatically danced by Yevgeny Shlapko.
The lighting, by Ross Kolman for both ballets, is especially memorable for Dracula. A shadow is a set of large cape-like wings that cover the whole stage one minute, and a tiny bat circling ominously in the sky the next.
Mark Scearce composed original scores for both ballets, which are performed by a live orchestra. The score for the Red Death might have a familiar sound for anyone who has heard Scearce’s work previously. The repetitive melancholy flat chords provide the right mood for of a house full of people being wiped out in the midst of revelry. The score for Dracula departs from that familiar sound, with a hoe-down style circle dance tune in the beginning and a very cool jazzy theme for Renfield.
Dracula is a dense ballet in the classical style of story ballets with great appeal to modern audiences. It’s well worth it for long-time ballet lovers and perfect for anyone new to ballet. It will be at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater through October 30.
by Denise Cerniglia