Ballet West's theatricality fortifies the wonder . . . the dread . . . the horror . . . of 'Dracula'
The ballet version of "Dracula" looked to me like Bob Fosse meets romantic-era Gothic absurdist but in a good way. The corps (no pun intended) stole the show as the 18 undead brides of Dracula framed the truncated telling of Bram Stoker's original tale of lust and blood.
Seventy-four-year-old British choreographer Ben Stevenson originally riffed on the macabre tale in 1997 when, as artistic director for Houston Ballet, he put his own contemporary spin on the full-length story ballet. Nearly 15 years later, the opulent set designs by Thomas Boyd and more than 65 finely detailed costumes by Judanna Lynn continue to create an on-stage atmosphere of wonder and dread.
Much like Fosse whose actual genius was less in the detail and more in the use of space Stevenson organically modulates the dancers in and out of groupings while fully using the depth and width of the stage space. The amazingly precise yet naturalistic corps consisted of Ballet West soloists, demi soloists, artists, and Ballet West II dancers.
The strength of this production is in its theatricality. Even the Act II peasant scene, which usually leaves me wanting for the next sequence in most full lengths, was filled with intriguing characters and shaded moments. Charismatic performances by Thomas Mattingly as the innkeeper and Allison DeBona as his wife were convincing and charming. Katie Critchlow's nuanced role as the old woman grounded the story in emotion. And the ribbon dance by the women and stick dance by the men were unconventional, even as they were traditional. The lighting in this act was luminous, giving contrast and interest to the scene's uplifting tone.
Because this is a theatrical work, the very classical structuring of a lengthy grand pas de deux in Act II stuck out as unnecessary. The choreography was technically extremely challenging, although it was not bravura enough to impress, so the effect was understated. Stylistically, Michael Bearden as Frederick and Katherine Lawrence as Svetlana danced their roles as a classical couple in a theatrical setting. However, when the story unfolds in Act III, after the couple has been through a harrowing life experience, their pas de deux deepens, as does the dancers' relationship and their performance.
A stunning performance by Christiana Bennett as the malevolent bride is an object lesson in character transformation. And Aidan DeYoung's portrayal of the evil sidekick Renfield gave the story an energized through line.
Of course, the incredibly handsome Easton Smith as Dracula was the lynchpin of the performance. Smith's background as a Broadway performer and his looming physical presence are tailor made for his magnetic enactment as the bloodthirsty count.
Some loose ends remain at the story's end, but the pyrotechnics fill in for a less-than-satisfying conclusion.
R A family-friendly, theatrical ballet
When • Reviewed Friday, Oct. 21; continues at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26-29, 31 and Nov. 1; 2 p.m. matinees Oct. 29, 30.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.
Tickets • $48-$74 (plus fees), at ArtTix.org or 801-355-ARTS.
Running time • Two hours, 30 minutes, with two intermissions