On Oct. 9th, plague and vampires came to the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in Raleigh via the guise of the Carolina Ballet, and they will stay to seduce audiences and produce passionate performances until Oct. 26th. The two ballets, based on classic horror stories written by Edgar Allan Poe (The Masque of the Red Death) and Bram Stoker (Dracula), are the latest in the ballet’s season and appropriately scheduled by artistic director Robert Weiss for the Halloween season.
The evening opens with Masque, choreographed by Robert Weiss and danced to J. Mark Scearce’s music, performed by a live orchestra conducted by Alfred E. Sturgis. Poe’s story is one of his most terrifying, especially when one compares the tale to the current ebola devastation in Africa. The story follows the Gothic tradition, painting a dark scene set in a castle where the main characters dance with a false sense of gaiety while being stalked by death. Prince Prospero and his ensemble isolate themselves in his castle, stocked with months’ worth of food, and dance their lives away while commoners in the surrounding countryside succumb to the “red death” (plague). Their costume party leads them to create an atmosphere of debauchery, a frenzied sort of partying that exists only because they can hide behind their masks. All the while, they are stalked by a mysterious figure (the Red Death) until they are ultimately all exposed to the contagion and succumb.
The Red Death, a skeletal creature danced by Richard Krusch, commands the stage with an athletic performance accentuated by grand jetes that are both high and chilling. When he strides quickly across the stage, he consumes the space, showing his power and reminding the common people, as well as the royalty, that there is no way they can escape his control.
Each of the pas de deux that the Prince (Pablo Javier Perez) and his Consort, the Duchess (Margaret Severin-Hansen), and their noble friends dance during the ballet only serves to accentuate the shortened amount of time that the group has left. Each of the dances is distinct in its style; but the one that garnered shouts of “Bravo!” was the dance by the Arabian Prince (Adam Crawford Chavis) and the Arabian Princess (Lara O’Brien). The couple is perfectly matched, both in height and in power. O’Brien’s extensions make her appear able to reach the sky when she is lifted. Her incredible ability to make it appear as though she is flying is not only determined by her skill but also by Chavis’ strength in supporting her.
By the time the Red Death comes back to claim his victims, all have had a chance to revel and to dance; but all succumb, no matter their status.
After a short intermission, the attention turns to a death of another kind, a slow death caused by royalty of another kind: Count Dracula.
Once again, the story is underlined by Mark Scearce’s music, conducted by Sturgis; and in this piece, some choral singers accompany the orchestra. The music is not the only sound that gives this piece atmosphere. Jeffery West as Dr. Seward narrates the tale that caused a literary sensation yet did not bring Stoker to the height of fame that he should have had within his lifetime. An acclaimed actor who has many credits in Triangle productions, West makes a superb narrator; and his narration provides some contextuality to the production that makes it more interesting and, in a lot of respects, even more horror-filled. His narration allows the story to move quickly and underscores the epistolary elements that provide the dimension Bram Stoker gave to the original story.
The shadowy figure of Dracula (danced by Marcelo Martinez) uses his magnificent cape to grow on the backdrop before he arrives in person to conduct his havoc and to suck the life out his unsuspecting victims. Martinez’s version of the vampire is a seductive and passionate one drawn by guest choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett to take advantage of the dancer’s regally dark good looks. It is easy to see why he has no problem enticing Lucy (Lara O’Brien) and Mina (Margaret Severin-Hansen) to let him take their life’s blood from them. When he is on stage, the atmosphere is both sexy and sinister.
One of the more interestingly danced scenes in the ballet is the one in which Mina is searching for Lucy, who has been tempted by Dracula in his bat persona. Lucy, dressed all in white, is enthralled; and Dracula, with his shadows, lures her into his lair. By using the parts of her dress which act as a long, looping cape, they create an amazing, sensual dance that lifts her into an acrobatic sacrifice, creating an angelic being who is about to be consumed by the devilish Dracula.
The lifts in this ballet are both delicate and dangerous; and at times, Lara O’Brien appears to float as if tethered to the ceiling. If for no other reason, attend this ballet to see the incredible Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s choreography; but if you simply want a show that celebrates the horror of Halloween, this is it.
Carolina Ballet presents Bram Stoker’s DRACULA and Edgar Allan Poe’s THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH at 8 p.m. Oct. 10, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 11, 2 p.m. Oct. 12, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 18, 2 p.m. Oct. 19, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 25, and 2 p.m. Oct. 26 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $34.97-$83.55, except $16.01 students.
Carolina Ballet Box Office: 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/get-tickets/group-sales/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/dracula, https://www.facebook.com/events/677241388992390/, and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/dracula-3794.
2014-15 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/program/2014-2015-season and https://www.facebook.com/events/719972874726696/.
PRESENTER: https://www.carolinaballet.com/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaBallet, https://twitter.com/CarolinaBallet, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_Ballet.
Robert Weiss (Carolina Ballet artistic director): https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/robert-weiss (Carolina Ballet bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Weiss_%28choreographer%29 (Wikipedia).
Lynne Taylor-Corbett (Denver, CO-born guest choreographer): https://www.carolinaballet.com/pages/staff-directory-entry/lynne-taylor-corbett (Carolina Ballet bio) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynne_Taylor-Corbett (Wikipedia).
J. Mark Scearce (Edina, MO-born composer): http://www.jmarkscearce.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Mark_Scearce (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.