‘Dracula’ at The Washington Ballet by Carolyn Kelemen


The Redskins may be in a slump but The Washington Ballet has never looked better. The nation’s capital premier ballet troupe is beginning its season with an impressive undertaking of the full-length, dramatic, crowd-pleasing, Dracula, choreographed by Michael Pink at The Kennedy Center through November 4th.

Even RG III couldn’t have pulled this off.

Luis R. Torres and Maki Onuki in Dracula. Photo by Steve Vaccariello.

From the first drumbeat – a heart pounding boom, boom, boom – to the pyrotechnics involved in Count Dracula’s death, this ballet will have you sitting on the edge of your seat right up until the last bite.

Based on Bram Stoker’s chilling tale of good, evil and dangerous romance, the dance drama was recreated by Robert Hand for The Washington Ballet. Over the past two decades Pink’s rendition has been seen all over the world. It features an original musical score by Philip Feeney, designs by Lez Brotherston (sets and costumes) and Paul Pyant (lighting and projections), and fabulous make-up by Sarah Opstad.

Enhancing the sound tract were animal screams and screeches and that aforementioned pounding underscore. Too bad the music wasn’t live to add another dimension to the haunting effects. The music, however, closely follows the dancing every step of the way and was met with well-deserved cheers from a packed house in The Eisenhower Theater.

Like other works produced under the watchful eye of Artistic director Septime Webre, Dracula incorporates The Washington Ballet Company and Studio, especially in the folk and zombie dances. Performances (half dance, half theater) are on the money, but the genius of this ballet comes in the form of the unexpected. Will there be blood gushing from the mouth of Dracula? Will his beloved Mina die like all the other undead brides?

While a series of books and movies have popularized vampires – think Twilight series – Pink has the uncanny ability to bring the audience into the underworld, yet created a ballet that favors mood and emotion over blood and gore.

L. to R. : Sarah Walborn, Luis R. Torres, Amber Lewis, and Morgann Rose. Photo by Steve Vaccariello.

After a mesmerizing prelude, the first act opens in Dracula’s Transylvania castle where Hyun-Woong Kim, dancing the role of the Count on opening night entertains a trio of his captors. Pink weaves classical technique with contemporary choreography, but Kim has his own style of dance – he commands the stage with just a glance from his piercing eyes. There’s no way you can escape his dangerous spell, emphasized by slashing leaps and twisted upper body movements.

The other major roles were flawlessly danced by Maki Onuki (Lucy), Sona Kharatian (Mina), and Jared Nelson (Harker), who gave a touching performance as the protagonist/husband. Maki brought a much-needed lightness in the second act, set near the sea in Victorian England. Here she performed allegro steps and lilting leaps across the stage. It didn’t take long, however, for the delicate ballerina to become somber and scary as she threw herself at her seducer in her afterlife. Zarachy Hackstock was quite impressive as Renfield, the insane character who causes havoc throughout the ballet and uses his body as a prop, banging against the wall and floor in Van Heising’s psychiatric ward.

It’s hard to imagine anyone, balletomane or not, failing to enjoy this rendition of Dracula, just in time for Halloween, followed by “Day of the Dead.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with two 20-minute intermissions.

Dracula plays through Sunday, November 4, 2012 at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F St. NW, in Washington, DC. Folks are invited to dress in costumes or go online for Halloween-linked festivities. For tickets, call the box office (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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Meet the cast of Dracula.

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