This Halloween season’s signature spooky ballet opened on Thursday night as Tropical Storm Michael ravaged the Triangle area with winds and rain, but on Saturday night the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater crowd was filled with appreciative ballet enthusiasts who gathered to watch magnificent Carolina Ballet principal dancer Marcelo Martinez recreate his role as Count Dracula. And they were not disappointed.
The evening began with another favorite of the season: The Masque of the Red Death, a ballet based upon the chilling 1842 tale written by Edgar Allan Poe. Choreographed by Carolina Ballet’s artistic director Robert Weiss, this ballet uses a metaphorical main character to represent the plague sweeping Prince Prospero’s (Kiefer Curtis) land. In order to keep his people safe from the Red Death (Sokvannara Sar), the Prince and his Duchess (Ashley Hathaway). The other nobility joining the prince dance the night away, ignoring the plague that devastates the areas outside the castle walls, but as time passes, they realize with horror that there is no escape.
The ballet seems a bit stilted, and often, somewhat slow. Some highlights in the actual dancing include the precision of the well-paired Curtis and Hathaway. In their first pas de deux, their lifts appear as effortless as if Hathaway was the weight of a Kleenex. Her extensions are wonderful, and their partner work is strong. They are a pleasure to watch. Elegant and regal, almost a bit chilly.
Another pair to watch is The Monkey (Miles Sollars-White) and the Ballerina (Jan Burkhard). Great chemistry is often just as important as technical talents; but when one has both, it is the stuff of principal dancers. Burkhard is the perfect example of a ballerina who knows that the chemistry between her partner and herself is only secondary to that of her audience and herself. Even behind a mask, her eyes and smile are visible, reaching out to the farthest seats. Sollars-White capably partners and lifts her easily.
As with all of Poe’s stories, there’s a macabre twist at the end of the narrative, after a frenetic climax that allows Sar to show off his athletic abilities.
But the star of the evening is the revival of Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s imaginatively choreographed version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The story, narrated by Dr. Seward (guest artist Alan Campbell, a Tony®-nominated actor who has enjoyed an acting career in many entertainment genres), is a feast for the eyes, ears, and mind.
Conductor Alfred E. Sturgis leads the orchestra, playing J. Mark Scearce’s powerfully eerie music to introduce Dracula’s stunning entrance. But it takes all of the creative forces to bring a ballet alive, and the costume design of David Heuvel gives us one of the most spectacular moments of the show: Dracula’s cape! When that cape is reflected against the backdrop, thanks to scenery design (Jeff A.R. Jones), lighting design (Ross Kolman) and projection design (Adam Larsen), the mood instantly changes.
During one spellbinding scene change to the interior of the castle, Marcelo Martinez as Dracula simply appears, as if out of nowhere. Audience members gasped. His ability to appear and disappear was one of the most effective tricks of teamwork (lighting, choreography, scenery) that we’ve seen.
Principal ballerina Lara O’Brien as Lucy Westerna is assisted by another piece of setting and majestic choreography: dressed in all white after her first experience with Dracula, she uses a long, diaphanous scarf as a headdress, a cradle, a brace, and wings. She is lifted into the air, dramatic and gorgeous, and dances as elegantly as if there are no bones in her body. She commands the stage, even at the moment when she hovers between an earthly life and a horrible after-life with her bloodsucking lover. She appears vacant, then paranoid, then lucid.
Lucy’s best friend Mina Harker, danced by Margaret Severin-Hansen, falls victim to the vampire as well; and her moment of partial ascension rivals any Cirque du Soleil production. She spins and flies to the top of the theater like a fluttering butterfly in the throes of death-by-candle.
Though all of the supporting characters (Richard Krusch as Jonathan Harker, Miles Sollars-White as Arthur Holmwood, Yevgeny Shlapko as Renfield, Nicholas Fokine as Dr. Van Helsing, Sophia Nelson, Jacqueline Schiller, and Lauren Wolfram as the Twisted Sisters) are engaged and impressive in their roles, it is Dracula’s evening. Martinez is both villainous and sexy. His easy leaps across the stage, the theatrical swirls and turns with his cape, and the powerful way he is able to lift his partners speaks of the metaphysical powers of Dracula himself.
Once again, the Carolina Ballet delivers a performance that makes the spooky, elegant, and the macabre, beautiful. Dracula and The Masque of the Red Death, will run through Oct. 28th at the Fletcher Opera Theater.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 12th Raleigh, NC Get-Offline.com article: https://www.get-offline.com/raleigh/news/just-announced-raleigh-s-got-a-secret-dracula-inspired-menu-and-we-can-t-wait-to-take-a-bite; and Oct. 9th Raleigh, NC Spectrum News Charlotte NC interview with dancer Marcelo Martinez and Carolina Ballet executive director Michele Weathers, conducted by Caroline Blair: http://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/charlotte/in-depth-interview/2018/10/09/in-depth-carolina-ballet-presents-dracula-performances-in-time-for-halloween–spectrum-news-anchor-caroline-blair-.
Carolina Ballet presents Bram Stoker’s DRACULA and Edgar Allan Poe’s THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, featuring live music by a chamber ensemble, at 2 p.m. Oct. 14, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 20, 2 p.m. Oct. 21, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 27, and 2 p.m. Oct. 28 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/836166.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-719-0900 or https://www.carolinaballet.com/season-tickets/tickets/group-rates/.
2018-19 SEASON: https://www.carolinaballet.com/season-tickets/.
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).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.