On Thursday, Oct. 9th, Carolina Ballet ushered in the season of ghosts and ghouls with its elegant and eerie production of Dracula, presented in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in downtown Raleigh, NC. Skillfully choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, the ballet features J. Mark Scearce’s suspenseful score, David Heuvel’s always-luscious costume designs, impressive lighting effects by Carolina Ballet lighting designer Ross Kolman and, of course, top-notch performances from the Carolina Ballet dancers.
For those not familiar with Bram Stoker’s original story of Dracula, the action opens with Jonathan Harker (Richard Krusch), a solicitor, visiting the castle of Count Dracula (Marcelo Martinez) in the Carpathian Mountains. He is there to assist Dracula with the purchase of property in England. While there, Jonathan encounters three female vampires — in Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s version, they’re called “The Twisted Sisters” — played with ferocious fun by Randi Osetek, Alicia Fabry, and Ashley Hathaway.
Jonathan barely escapes with his life and returns to England just in time to find his wife, Mina (Margaret Severin-Hansen), fretting about her friend Lucy Westenra (Lara O’Brien). Lucy is suffering from a mysterious illness, likely caused by two strange wounds that have appeared on her neck.
Fearing for her friend, Mina has called in Dr. Seward (actor Jeffery West), who — at a loss to explain what he is seeing — calls in his former teacher, Dr. Van Helsing (Marin Boieru). Van Helsing recognizes the marks as the bite of a vampire and tries to protect Lucy from further harm by encircling her neck with garlic. However, Dracula, who has purchased the estate next door, is too powerful, and Lucy dies — or so they think.
When it is later revealed that she has become one of the undead, like Dracula, Van Helsing leads the men to her crypt, where they drive a stake through Lucy’s heart, sending her to her actual death. Dracula next turns his attentions to Mina, but is not as successful. In the end, with Mina’s help, Dracula is defeated.
Marcelo Martinez, who created the role when Lynne Taylor-Corbett originally set the ballet in 2010, is perfect as Count Dracula. With his dark good looks and imposing presence, it’s no wonder that Lucy and Mina succumb to his charms. Lara O’Brien’s Lucy is all innocence and naïveté — in a contrast to Margaret Severin-Hansen’s more suspicious and worried Mina — but both strike exactly the right balance in their ultimately failed attempts to resist Dracula’s magnetism. Richard Krusch and Adam Schiffer (as Lucy’s fiancé) are just right as the young heroes defending their true loves from the evil count.
Jeffery West not only plays the role of Dr. Seward, but also serves as narrator for the story, a device that works well — a testament to choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s ability to seamlessly weave narration, dialogue (West often speaks lines for other characters as well as his own), pantomime, and dance.
Yevgeny Schlapko deserves special mention for his fantastic portrayal of the crazy, creepy Renfield, Dr. Seward’s asylum patient who has a fondness for eating insects and a telepathic connection to Dracula. (I would have given Schlapko a wide berth if I had met him on the street in character.) Marin Boieru’s van Helsing leads the battle against Dracula with conviction and authority.
Lynne Taylor-Corbett keeps the action moving in her version of Dracula. She has trimmed extraneous scenes and plot lines but retained the major story arc of the novel. Her Count Dracula makes scary, surprise appearances, emerging out of nowhere in ways that make us jump (and then laugh at ourselves for jumping). The bedroom pas de deux between Lucy and Dracula is passionate and menacing; and we are tempted, drawn in, in spite of ourselves. Taylor-Corbett’s use of a trapeze rope to lift Mina in her pas with Dracula is so well done that once Margaret Severin-Hansen secures her grip on the rope, it recedes into the background. We no longer see the rope, only the weightlessness Taylor-Corbett is trying to achieve. Dracula’s power is such that he can send Mina spinning up into the air with an effortless swipe of his arm.
Ross Kolman’s lighting and Adam Larsen’s projection designs are key elements in making this ballet work. Bare branches crowned by a full moon evoke a desolate winter landscape. Shadows and silhouettes sweep across the stage, bringing with them black danger. A winged creature grows larger and larger and larger … and then Dracula appears. A huge hand reaches threateningly across the stage, beckoning Mina. I caught my breath more than once at the effects created by this talented pair. Eric Collins’ sound design completed the technical artistry so evident in this production.
Jeff A.R. Jones designed the sets for both Dracula and The Masque of the Red Death, the other piece on the program. A dramatic stair/balcony/bridge/archway unit spans the entire upstage area and serves as the ballroom for Masque and as multiple locations in Dracula.
The Masque of the Red Death, inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe short story and choreographed by Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss, also featured a score by Mark Scearce, costumes by David Heuvel, and lighting by Ross Kolman. The story here was more abstract and served mostly to provide a framework for various pairings and groupings of Prince Prospero’s guests — all of whom eventually fall victim to the Red Death.
Pablo Javier Perez danced the role of Prospero, and Margaret Severin-Hansen was his consort, the duchess — a regal pairing. Jan Burkhard and Sokvannara Sar were the Joker and Jokerette and provided moments of comic relief. Lara O’Brien and Adam Crawford Chavis, garbed in Arabian costumes, performed a sinuous pas de deux that at times became a pas de quatre, when Sean Armstrong and Maxmilian Isaacson aided them with the occasional lift. (I would have found the presence of the two additional male dancers less distracting if they had also been dressed in Arabian costumes.)
Worth noting is the pairing of corps de ballet member Elice McKinley and soloist Nikolai Smirnov, in both Dracula and Masque. McKinley is effervescent from the moment she takes the stage, and Smirnov possesses an easy charisma. They make a lovely couple; and despite a bobble or two in their partnering, their dancing was lively and joyous and a pleasure to watch.
Also worth noting is the fact that Mark Scearce’s scores were performed live under the direction of Alfred E. Sturgis. Live music always adds to the enjoyment of a performance, for both the dancers and the audience members.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 10th Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Dawn Reno Langley: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/10/dracula-swoops-in-dramatically-to-the-carolina-ballet/.
Carolina Ballet presents Bram Stoker’s DRACULA and Edgar Allan Poe’s THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH at 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).
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s Triangle Review reviews, click here. To read more of her CVNC reviews, click here.