October 26th, 2005

Milwaukee Ballet "Dracula"

Bram Stoker's epistolary novel "Dracula" would not necessarily be one's first thought as a great subject for a ballet. Nevertheless, Micheal Pink, who is also the Milwaukee ballet Director, has succeeded admirably in adapting the subject to the dance. We went to see the opening night performance on October 21, which featured the first of three casts, and had a fine time.

The performace opens with a prolog of Johnathan Harker recovering from his ordeal in Dracula's castle. The dancers externalize his literal nightmare: "wolves" crawl out from under his hospital bed to menace him, ghostly and demonic figures haunt him.

The first act begins with harker being seen off at Charing Cross Station by Mina and van Helsing (here, Van Helsing is combined with the character of Dr. Seward). Harker (Cristian Laverde Konig) boards the train and travels to Transylvania, where he arrives on All Souls Night, to find the villagers engaged in a ceremonty to ward off evil. The Transylvanian villagers' round dance partakes of folk styles but somehow manages to suggest a sinsiter, almost Lovecraftian degeneracy--a very striking effect achieved without any obvious grotesquerie--that's BEFORE they bring out the wolf carcass (which Georgie noted was the most unusual prop she'd seen in any ballet--). Dracula's "coachman" appears to pick up Harker. the villagers beg him not to go, but he continues his journey.

At the castle, Harker is greeted by Dracula, sporting the long red dressing gown and long ashy hair made iconic by the 1992 Coppola film with Gary Oldman. (Unlike Oldman, the dancer's hair does not get dark when he has fed later. The long, limp blonde wig gives the tall lean dancer an unfortunate resemblance to "Riff Raff" in "Rocky Horror Picture Show," but that is swiftly overcome.) Once alone in his room, Harker is atacked by Dracula's "brides", one of whom, in another homage to the motion picture, materializes in his bed. Dracula appears, and distracts the vampire women with a baby he has taken from the village, and then commences his own assault. Dracula makes four attacks on stage in this production, and each one is different. The extended pas de deux of his attack on the now shirtless and barefoot Harker is as effective evocation of rape as I have ever seen depicted without being graphic. Dracula springs from stillness to lithe motion as he toys with his prey, his angular poses echoing some hunting bird like a heron, while his motion was rapid and lizardlike.

The second act is set at Whitby. Guests at the Grand Hotel engage in an afternoon tea dance, unaware of the approaching storm and the hell-ship it is bringing to their shore. This is one part that went on too long. Lucy (Tatiana Jouravel) and her suitors, Quincey (Andrey Kasatsky), Arthur (Christopher Fellows), and in this case, Van Helsing/Seward (Ryan Martin) are introduced, but there's way too much pointless cheerful dancing to mildly dissonant music before Dracula appears. When he does, it is as though he is unseen as he cuts Lucy out of the crowd, seduces her, and drinks her blood.

She is taken to the Sanatorium. Van Helsing surrounds her with garlic as a precaution, but it is crried off by an ignorant nurse. Dracula enter through Renfield's cell and has his way with her again--this encounter is pure sex. Some remarkable work here, as Dracula hangs by his knees working his way down the set from cell to bedroom, and the slithers across the floor being one with the fog to enter. Once he has left, the others return to find Lucy expiring. They try in vain to save her but she dies. When Arthur touches a crucifix to her lips, she comes to life galvanically and attacks him, then flees as Dracula did.

The third act opens where Mina (Jenniffer Miller) is waiting at the sanatorium for news. Renfield escapes from his cell and attacks Van Helsing, biting his arm and drawing blood. Renfield is subdued by the guards, but, in a particularly creepy bit, gathers up Van Helsing's spilled blood from the floor and licks it off his fingers. Later, Mina tries to comfor the increasingly agitated and now straitjacked Renfield, who tries to warn her of Dracula's approach, but to no avail. Again, emarkable dancing in this scene by Petr Zahradnicek as Renfield.

Harker and the others return from fruitless searching, and Harker falls into an exhausted stupor from which Mina cannot rouse him when Dracula appears. his attack on Mina is swift and brutal, a literal Apache' dance. When Van Helsing burst in as he is feeding Mina his own blood, Dracula vanishes, taking her with him.

Act four takes place in the crypts of Carfax Abbey. A horde of Nosferatu summoned by Dracula crawl enervatedly from the crevices and write in a slow-motion Goth orgy which graually builds to a frantic Sabbat. Dracula enters to recieve their homage, accompanied by Mina as his newest consort. Lucy also enters, bringing with her the luckless renfield, whom Dracula sacrifices to his cabal. Lucy, now a bloody-handed Maenad, takes his place as leader of the revel as he withdraws, presumably to further enjoy Mina. When Dracula reappers, the door is literally blown open, admitting the sunlight and the rescue party. The light scatters all the undead but Dracula, who, as in Soker's novel, can bear the light of the sun for a time. However, he is weakend by it, so that the four men can overcome and stake him after a desperate struggle. Dracula disintegrates in a puff of smoke, leaving the heroes to mourn Quincey, who dies of wounds received in the battle. The stage gradually dims down to a single spotlight on Mina, who stares out over the audience, absently fingering her throat--.

This production underscored that the Milwaukee Ballet, under Micheal Pink's direction, has become an organization capable of work a the highest level. Pink was also the choreographer for this piece (with Christopher Gable), which was orginally performed nine years ago and his since proven popular in other venues. The dancing is powerful and well executed by the cast. The ballet is also to an orginal score by Philip Feeney was listenable and actually harmonious if occasionally punctuated by horror-film effects. Lez Brotherston designed the open-plan structural set, which worked well; and the costumes, which also looked good but lacked orginality.