“Dracula” opens with Jonathan Harker (Marco Abdelnor) in a nightmare, surrounded by ghosts and demons. As Jonathan writhes in terror on the bed, the corps de ballet surrounds him, frantically working their arms and hands in and out above him. Occasionally, individual dancers break away from the corps to perform a solo of pirouettes and extensions, or the entire corps leaves Jonathan’s bed to cover the stage in chaotic movement.
Accompanied by Philip Feeney’s gothic score of pulsating bass lines, screaming strings, and bellowing organs, from the moment the curtain rises, the audience knows that this is not a typical ballet.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a dramatic tale of seduction, loss, and revenge, lends itself to the stage well. But, telling this story through only dance and movement must be a daunting challenge. Nevertheless, Upstate New York Ballet and choreographer Katrina Jade tackled “Dracula” eight years ago, when they first premiered this ballet. In the second revival since its 2001 debut, Upstate New York Ballet presented “Dracula” at The Landmark Theatre Saturday night.
Jade’s choreography juxtaposes long, classical lines and sharp, dramatic angles to satisfy both elements of classical ballet and gothic storytelling necessary for “Dracula.” These conflicting styles work well together, as the roles of those still human incorporate the more classical, and those playing the undead perform seductive, sharp choreography, evoking a sense of otherness.
The contrast of these styles is clearly seen in the choreography for Lucy Westenra (Marysa Dalton) and Mina Murray (Morgan McEwan), characters who are bitten and transformed by Dracula (Brandon Alexander). Before their encounters with the Count, both women dance with the long, fluid lines of a classical sensibility. After they are seduced and bitten, their movements become frantic, sharp, and much more sensual.
The cast of “Dracula,” with the exception of the lead performers and the Vampire Brides (Rebecca Buller, Kristen Goldrick, and Hayley Meier), is comprised of dance students and some non-dancing males playing important roles. The gaps between the technical skills on stage are apparent, as the professional leads share the stage with less seasoned dancers. However, several of the older dance students in the corps, particularly those en pointe, show promise as their technique is sound and they still have time to develop emotive acting skills.
The non-dancers, though lacking classical dance skills, were able to convey the story through their body movements and facial expressions, and were enjoyable to watch in their roles as Lucy’s unsuccessful suitors (Quincy Morris, played by Thomas Callaghan and Dr. John Seward, played by Jeff Garlow) and as Dr. Van Helsing (Larry Martin).
Luckily, the professional dancers made up for the lost momentum in the dance narrative. Dracula (Alexander) is intense and fierce in his movement, and his masculinity trumps the other male characters. Jonathan Harker (Abdelnor), a technically solid dancer, plays his role as a man under Dracula’s thrall well because he allows Dracula to be the more masculine dancer.
The Vampire Brides, my personal favorites, show off their capabilities as classical technicians through their flexibility and extension, but also perform the more contemporary sharp, sensual movement with manic grace. Much like the Vampire Brides, Lucy (Dalton) and Mina (McEwan) adeptly show their classical technique, their emotive capabilities, and perform the less classical choreography, proving to the audience that they are professional dancers because they can do it all, and do it well.
Upstate’s “Dracula” proved to be a fun night for dance, giving the audience both the beauty of ballet and the visually interesting non-classical choreography. The blending of these styles in Jade’s choreography not only told the story of “Dracula,” but showcased the range of movement a classically trained dancer is capable of performing.
For a behind the scenes look at this ballet, read Ballet takes a bite out of 'Dracula.'