Heralding in the cool, fall nights and with Halloween just around the corner, the Minnesota Ballet opens its 2011-2012 season with a little something beyond Bram Stoker’s darkest dreams in the form of the ballet, Dracula. The Minnesota Ballet’s artistic director, Robert Gardner was initially reticent about taking on the dark subject matter.
“Dracula has been suggested to me by several colleagues in the past,” Gardner shared. ”I am basically a romantic and it wasn’t until I had an evening out with a theatre director friend and we talked out the libretto that I had in mind that I felt it was something I wanted to pursue artistically.”
The Dracula tale seems to be as old as time itself, considering the popularity of the name and the character in our culture, spawning movies, books, Halloween costumes, and everything in between. The original work was penned by the Irish author, Bram Stoker, in 1897. In that story, we discover, through a novel of letters, diary entries, and so forth, the vampire Count Dracula’s attempt to leave Transylvania for England. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire as a character, his work did define our current interpretation of the blood sucking villain which led to the deluge of gothic, vampire, and invasion literature that is so popular today.
Gardner felt no compulsion to adapt any particular vision of the gothic tale for his dancers on the stage, having never seen or directed the ballet before. Choreographer Ben Stevenson, formerly of the Royal Ballet, made “Dracula” famous in its 1997 debut.
In this world premier interpretation of the haunting tale, Gardner explained his challenges and perspective on bringing his concept to the stage.
“One of the biggest challenges for me was finding the music,” he admitted. ”I usually approach choreography with the score or music as inspiration, but there is no definitive score for Dracula. One, at least, has been written, but it did not appeal to me.” Stevenson’s 1997 concept included a score by Liszt, but Gardner, in his search for something acceptable to his interpretation, opened up his field a bit wider.
“With this ballet, I started with the plot, loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel, worked out the scenes, and then began listening to music…lots of classical music,” said Gardner of his process. ”I listened to anything dark and atmospheric and ended up using several composers: Bartok, Janacek, Liszt, St. Saens, Beethoven, and Shostakovitch.”
Once he had the music, the story, and the scenes to his satisfaction, there came the thing every director and performance artist has to tackle–bringing it from vision to reality on stage.
“There is the challenge of creating character through movement,” explained Gardner. ”I have a wonderful group of artists to work with and they’ve been an inspiration.” The company has been in rehearsals perfecting the movement and the presentation of the scenes since August 22, often working six hours a day, five days a week. Along with Minnesota Ballet’s accomplished established dancers, this season and this production will debut new faces and new talent, Gardner enthusiastically shares.
“There is Leanna Ling, from Atlanta, who will be playing Mina. She is a petite and dynamic dramatic dancer. Health Liskiewitz, a strong and powerful dancer will play one of the vampires. There is Hussan Hupoy, originally from Cuba, as Lord Arthur. Hupoy is lyrical and wonderfully lithe and expressive.”
Joining the cast from the Sarasota Ballet where he was recently an apprentice is Kevin James, whom Gardner describes as “a talented young man–strong yet pliant and very expressive.”
Gardner takes obvious pride in his dancers and their ability. Ballet veteran Nik Wourms will play Dracula. ”He has taken on the role with relish,” says Gardner. ”Suzanne [Kritzberg] as Lucy is delicious, and Reinhard [Von Rabenau] is the perfect Johnathan Harker.” Rounding out the cast is Catherine Wootten as Ms. Ina Wells, a nurse at Dr. Seward’s sanatorium; Suzie Baer as the “powerful and sensuous” leader of the vampiresses, and Megan Wolfson as the third of the vampire brides of Dracula.
When asked why the epic Dracula tale is so riveted into the imaginations and literature, and even in the cinematic fabric of culture, Gardner remarked, “I don’t know why it’s so popular. There is, of course, the seductive element. But, to me, I find the lost soul aspect of Dracula’s character a fascinating aspect of his Gothic presence.”
Dracula makes its Duluth premier Friday, October 21 and continues on Saturday, October 22, at the DECC’s Symphony Hall. The horror and the beauty begin at 7 p.m. For tickets and information, check out the Minnesota Ballet’s Web site.