Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dracula, the ballet

This is a poster from the Dracula film. The ballet on view at the Kennedy Center is much better.

A cross between romantic ballet and the Twilight Saga, the newest production to enter the repertory of The Washington Ballet is evocative, gripping, and utterly spectacular. Performed by a phenomenal cast on Friday, Dracula featured Emily Ellis in the role of Mina and Jared Nelson in the title role. They were a scintillating couple: transforming Michael Pink’s choreography--which features long lunges, diagonal lines, and wing-like arms--into statements about desire and delusion.

The entire cast contributed to Pink’s nightmarish visions, both horrifying and believable at the same time. Their dancing was enhanced by their sumptuous outfits and sets--original costumes and production by Lez Brotherston—which Atlanta Ballet loaned to Washington. The contrasts between the light-hearted mood of the Tea Dance that began Act II and the abbey scene that closed the ballet created a sensuous and emotional journey; as bizarre as a ballet about vampires may be, these performers made the tale captivating. The score by Philip Feeney enhanced the spooky atmosphere: sounds of banging on a door, water dripping in a bucket (or maybe in some dark basement), and pulsing heartbeats conjured scenes from an Edgar Allan Poe story. Dracula’s bold and sinister demeanor made visible his allure and his cruelty, and carried through to the bows when Nelson strutted on stage, slow and majestic, a dignified commander of other realms. 

This production is a Dionysian delight, enriched by Pink’s choreography that the cast so beautifully inhabits.
Circuitous and slinky, Pink’s vocabulary speaks to feelings and emotions coursing through the veins of the characters. It stretches the classical steps to create angles that are distorted, skewed, excessive. The entire production, as my friend mentioned on the way of the theater, is an extravaganza. Multi-sensory and engaging, Dracula brought attention to detail and craft: the bed in the final act slanted dramatically, its headboard reminiscent of a Gothic arch. Daniel Roberge in the role of a madman, Renfield, transformed anxious jitters into an incessant convulsing and shaking that was terrifying.

Dracula depicts a spectrum of carnal cravings--from love to lust to hunger for blood—and unfolds in a tantalizing manner with some scenes unraveling quickly and others using slow motion disintegrations to show fear and paralysis. The Washington Ballet has a brilliant way of revealing characters’ human and supernatural traits simultaneously: suddenly the lure of La Sylphide 180 years ago is much more understandable. At the same time, my fascination with Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart pales in comparison to my admiration for these fantastic artists. The nether-worlds tap into questions about life and death, desire and longing, and the ending of Pink’s Dracula is both stunning and ambiguous. But I’d rather not give too much away since it’s a performance that lasts one more week and it’s the perfect way to celebrate Halloween. 

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