The stunning dichotomy with Robert Gardner’s interpretation of the age old Bram Stoker Dracula tale is the infusion of hypnotic beauty in a story filled with horror and darkness. But, that’s exactly what Gardner and the company of the Minnesota Ballet achieved with the opening of their 2011-2012 season on stage at Symphony Hall.
What one notices is that the stage at Symphony Hall is enormous compared to the other venues in the city. Ann Gumpper’s scenic design is pleasingly simple yet detailed and evocative, relying heavily on lighting, executed by Kenneth Pogin. The stage is bathed in blues and reds, setting off, nicely, the gray and black set pieces indicating castles, a grave yard, and interiors. The colour palette of the costuming by Sandra Ehle, white and black always finds a hint of red somewhere–a cravat, embroidery, or a pair of socks. The simplicity and cohesive quality of the costumes and set provide a dramatically understated backdrop to what makes a ballet spectacular: the dancing.
And there is spectacular dancing. So much so that, at times, it matters not exactly what the storyline is, since there have been dozens of Dracula interpretations. Reinhard von Rabenau dances the role of Harker as the ballet opens, leaving his wife Mina (Leanna Ling) as he departs for Transylvania to meet a new client, Count Dracula (Nikolaus Wourms). One of the highlights of the first act includes a second scene trio of werewolves (Wilder Herrouet, Hussan Hopuy, and Kevin James) chasing, in a frenetic dance, Harker, as he arrives in Transylvania. Later, at the castle, the exquisitely choreographed dance with the three vampiresses (Suzie Baer, Heather Liskiewitz, and Megan Wolfson) as they attempted to claim Harker culminates in Dracula desiring to take Harker for himself. The vampiresses, costumed in wisps of ghostly material, accented with red, are cold and macabre, encircling their prey, throughout their time on stage, with delicate movements. Wourms makes his entrance as Dracula revealed, replete with a black and crimson cape and within the first act, transforming himself into a bat, follows Harker back to London where he intends to make prey of Harker’s wife, but not before Suzanne Kritzberg as Lucy Westerna, succumbs to the bite of the vampire count in a dramatic, haunting dance that closes out the first act.
The second act opens with the men mourning the death of Lucy at her grave, including an appearance in this ballet with artistic director and choreographer Robert Gardner dancing the role of Van Helsing. A dance between Kritzberg and Hussan Hupuy (Lord Arthur) reveals Lucy’s transformation and return from the underworld as a vampire. She attempts to seduce him through Gardner’s intricate choreography set to the classical score of the drama unfolding on stage. Eventually, Dracula claims his intended victim, sweet Mina.
Dracula claims his victims in sweeping epic-quality scenes of choreography carried with precision and technical prowess. The timing with the score is spot on and the dramatic flourishes of Wourms and Kritzberg stand out, especially. As the closing scenes of the story unfold with Van Helsing, Harker, Dr. Seward (Kevin James) Dracula, and the vampiresses, the audience is witness to the dramatic conclusion and styles of dancing that Gardner has choreographed to convey madness, love, despair, and death between each of the characters in this masterfully produced interpretation of a classical horror story.
If you’ve never experienced the Minnesota Ballet on stage, Dracula is certainly a beautiful introduction. For those familiar with the technical and theatrical acumen of the company and its choreographer, this show will definitely keep you enthralled from curtain up until the final moments of life…and death, on the stage.
There are tickets available for the final performance of Dracula. Click here for more information.