Posted on Feb 23, 2014
5 out of 5
If one were to sit down and list out a catalogue of possible topics for ballets, it is a fairly safe bet that Bram Stroker's legendary vampire would not make an appearance on the list. Dracula? As in vampire Dracula? In the days leading up to Friday night's performance at the Kauffman this reviewer amused herself by mentioning the upcoming show and seeing how her friends reacted. It is as unlikely a subject as one is likely to conjure forth. And yet, choreographer Michael Pink and composer Philip Feeney's collaboration is not the only time this old horror story has received the ballet treatment: in 2002 the Royal Winnipeg Ballet starred in "Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary", which also followed the course of the original novel. The two performances are very different takes, but both very interesting.
Of course we all know the story--at least, the distilled version that has come down to us through movies and so on, but this production sticks rather closer to the original text as Dracula (Anthony Krutzkamp/Logan Pochciarz) draws first Johnathan Harker (Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye/Michael Davis) then his wife Mina (Molly Wagner/Tempe Ostergren) into his clutches, feasting upon their blood essence as he seeks power and dominion. With mental patient Renfield (Ian Poulis/Charles Martin) and Mina's friend Lucy (Laura Hunt/Sara Chun) fallen to his thrall, it is up to Dr. Van Helsing (James Jordan) to save the beleaguered couple and destroy the beast.
The debut performance on the twenty-first was an impressive one, Lez Brotherston's production design having opted for an explicitly cinematic effect. The principals on this night (drawn from the first names listed) danced well and expressively, ably performing not only the technical demands of the dance but also doing so utterly in character. All too often it is easy to forget that dance is an art form that makes multiple simultaneous demands at the physical and mental levels; nowhere is this more obviously so than in a performance such as this. Jolicoeur-Nye and Wagner were excellent as the monster's primary targets, and Hunt's Lucy falls exquisitely before our eyes from victim to beast. But without doubt, it is Krutzkamp's Dracula who steals the show, sweeping onto the stage in such a commanding presence that every eye is immediately drawn to him. His seduction--for, let us be honest, seduction is exactly what it is--of the Harkers is swift and sure. He dances a line between sensual and feral, the perfect alpha predator.
The ballet's elaborate score is performed ably by the KC Symphony, making use of unusual instruments and other devices to bring Feeney's challenging score to life. The scenery and costumes, on loan from the Atlanta Ballet, assist ably in setting the mood, the sets being particularly versatile in moving from one scene to the next. David Grill's lighting design is generally excellent, as is Nadia Thompson's staging.
About the only quibble this reviewer could find was with the opening of the second act, at which Lucy and her suitors are introduced during a tea dance. This scene is not bad in itself, and does give the opportunity to show off some talented work by the members of the corps, but does frankly run a bit long. The scene establishes that it is a lovely day with innocents enjoying the weather and each other's company and so on, and then goes on establishing it over the next several minutes, so that this reviewer found herself realizing with something of a start that she had almost completely forgotten about Dracula. It does pick up very quickly afterwards, but it did seem to rather bring the story to a halt, at least for a little while.
This, however, is a minor issue, and overall the ballet was an excellent performance. They have put together a marvelous production here, and this reviewer would not be sorry to see it become a semi-regular feature of the ballet season--perhaps not quite as regular as the inevitable Nutcracker, but every few seasons or so. This is an incredibly complex work, but it is also just about as fun as ballet gets, and is a fitting addition to what has been thus far a most enjoyable season.