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A number of ballet companies around the country have taken to performing some version of Dracula during October. The Carolina Ballet has just premiered a new version by Lynne Taylor Corbett, and the adventurous North Carolina Dance Theatre opened its Dracula, by the fascinating choreographer Mark Godden in the Knight Theater as the first in their one-two Halloween punch (the children’s show Trick ‘R Treat takes the matinee slots). Godden’s work was commissioned by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and premiered there in 1998; this is NCDT’s first staging of it. Godden, an American who now lives in Canada, was present to set it on the NCDT dancers.
Godden’s Dracula is based on Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 tale of the Transylvanian vampire, his visit to England, and subsequent valiant battles by the intrepid male admirers of his female conquests to wrest the women back from Dracula’s dark seductions and blood-drinking subsistence in his parallel world of the un-dead. It is a sexually loaded and highly gothic story, and Godden presents some of it straight, but he seems more interested in delving into the back story, and in keeping us aware of the psychological realness informing it while enjoying a laugh at its preposterous events. He sets all this to a selection of movements from Gustav Mahler symphonies (1, 2, 9) that supply the appropriate aural mix of passion and bombast.
I did not find this Dracula as gripping as Godden’s Constructing Juliet, a brilliant examination of the social and familial forces that led inexorably to Juliet’s death. The structure was dramatically off-putting: the first act was neither dramatic nor replete with strong dancing, and if we hadn’t known those three men in Lucy Westenra’s (Traci Gilchrest; Kara Wilkes will dance Oct. 14-15) bedroom were supposed to be her suitors, we would have been hard-pressed to tell. The most amusing and the creepiest thing about it was Godden’s invention of a foursome of gargoyles — demented creatures of lust with devilish tails, protuberant bellies and obscenely more protuberant belly buttons — who gambol about, ultimately doing the nasty in a pole dance with the four posts of Lucy’s bed. (There are many clever choreographic cruciform designs echoing the crosses used to de-power the vampires.) There are also some great staging effects, including a flying bat, and the bed that deconstructs into a bier when Dracula’s power over Lucy has become so great that she appears dead to the living world.
Things get even stranger after intermission. The second act begins with a bizarre, comic recap of the entire Stoker story, with the dancers pantomiming and explanatory text projected on the back wall. But finally we get to a real dramatic dance scene, Dracula’s seduction of the almost-willing Mina (Alessandra Ball) who has read in her fiancé’s diary of the attempts of some vampire sirens to engross him while he is in Dracula’s castle.
Dracula, and dancer Dustin Layton, show their powers at last. With the mixture of tenderness, indifference and violence that so often proves effective in seduction, Dracula finally overcomes Mina and has her drinking his blood from a gash on his chest which he has slashed with his fingernail. It is a fantastic image: The red horizontal line framed by the red folds of his thrown-back cloak; the eyes dazzling with desire and command beneath his flowing hair; the woman in white turning from her blood-fest with dripping mouth. The best dancing of the night precedes this — yet Ball, who is a riveting performer and gorgeous dancer, seemed oddly muted on opening night, almost muffled in her swaddling white dress.
But then the other men rush in, and although Mina is now a vampire herself, she is not so lost to the feelings of her fiancé Jonathan Harker (Sasha Janes, elegantly expressive as always; he and Layton change roles for the second weekend of the run) that she must defend Dracula. Instead she helps the men in their capture and impaling of Dracula, which leads to an incredible, spectacular final image.
Dracula continues at NCDT Oct. 14-16. See our calendar for details.