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Ballet West brings the undead to life in ‘Dracula’

This ‘mysterious and glamorous’ production merges the classic vampire story with dance for a thrilling, gothic ride

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dress rehearsal for Ballet West's Dracula, at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

Editor’s note • This article is part of 150 Things To Do, a reporting project and newsletter exploring the best that Utah has to offer. Click here to sign up for the 150 Things weekly newsletter.

Move over, “Twilight” — the king of vampires is in town.

Ballet West’s “Dracula” is running now through Oct. 30. Tickets start at $15 and can be bought online at bit.ly/2ZdBd3M. Masks are required.

While the word “ballet” might conjure thoughts of sparkling tutus and airy music, “Dracula” is all gothic beauty, from a stage lit with haunting reds and grays to a phantom coach drawn by skeleton horses.

Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute said dancers even fly across the stage — literally.

“It’s a wildly entertaining production and it’s perfect for people who don’t know anything about ballet,” he said. “Ben Stevenson’s production of ‘Dracula’ [is] like being on a ride through the Haunted Mansion.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dress rehearsal for Ballet West's Dracula, at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

Merging vampires and ballet

Sklute said Ballet West last performed “Dracula” 10 years ago. The current production marks a return to large-scale productions, with a full orchestra and all 60 dancers on stage, he added. (While Ballet West didn’t fully shut down during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they limited the size of shows.)

The production includes “elaborate set pieces” and the workmanship of hundreds of costumes, Sklute said, plus music by Franz List, arranged into a score by John Lanchbery.

“I hope that what people will see with this is the hallmark of... Ballet West productions, which is high caliber, great workmanship,” he said.

And while the story doesn’t specifically follow Bram Stoker’s classic, Sklute said it retains important elements from the novel, such as a town that Dracula preys on and Renfield, the vampire lord’s lackey.

He also said the book has been adapted for dance in a way that matches a classical ballet structure and even includes ballet archetypes, such as peasant dances and a leading romantic couple.

“In many ways, I find [the “Dracula” ballet] more entertaining because it’s less complex,” Sklute said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dress rehearsal for Ballet West's Dracula, at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

Storytelling without words

Ballerina Jenna Rae Herrara, who plays Dracula’s love interest Svetlana on Oct. 30 (evening), said the show is a fun way to celebrate Halloween.

She said vampires show up across many cultures and legends, and perhaps people are drawn to the mystery and intrigue of these blood-drinking monsters.

“Something that I like about this production is there’s a lot of darkness and sadness with the Dracula character, but in the end, there’s always light,” Herrara said.

She also said that learning the Svetlana role has been challenging but exciting. It requires not only technical dancing, she said, but good acting in order to tell the story without words.

Herrara, who’s now in her 15th season with Ballet West, added that her character is a strong woman who knows what she wants.

“She’s fearless. She is able to combat a vampire,” Herrara said. “So that’s a beautiful thing in this ballet to have.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dress rehearsal for Ballet West's Dracula, at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.

Art after COVID-19

Herrara said she hopes that, especially after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are able to simply turn their phones off and find joy in the ballet’s beauty.

Sklute added that after so many challenges over the last 18 months, people are in need of great entertainment. A “dark, mysterious and glamorous” vampire story fits the bill, he said.

“I hope that [audiences] will feel thrilled to be back in the theater in a large scale production, experiencing live theater together as a community,” Sklute said, “which I think is such a big part of what live performing arts is about.”

Editor’s note • 150 Things To Do is a reporting project and weekly newsletter made possible by the generous support of the Utah Office of Tourism. Sign up for the 150 Things newsletter here.


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