October 30 - November
8, 2003 -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Transylvania, Pennsylvania --
Just weeks after PAB poured their heart into the seasonís Balanchine opener,
they unleashed "Dracula," conceived in 1997 by Houston Balletís
Ben Stevenson to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bram Stokerís psychosexual
thriller that not only scandalized London society, but created one of
the most evil and campy characters in literature and film, if not dance-theater.
Unfortunately, Halloween-eve spooked this second mounting by the company.
Technical difficulties and anemic performances made for a bloodless ride
with the Count. Fortunately, two days later, the second cast, proved more
interpretive and was close to spellbinding, indicating that the flatness
was more of an off night than any lack of conviction on the part of the
Without doubt, Stevensonís heavy-handed choreography is often more draining
that the Count himself, with movement that somehow manages not only to
be thematically bloated, but utterly spare in its variations ("Paging
Petipa."). This Dracula story is told in plodding straightforward
manner for an evening length gothic tale and at times is as engaging as
a cheesy midnight horror movie ("Paging Elvira!").
The subtext to all Dracula stories is sex. Itís more suspenseful in the
hot-housed environs of Victorian England -- where Stokerís Count suddenly
assaults, suffocating mores and corrupting virgin flesh -- but Stevensonís
ballet keeps the Count in his home country to feast on local villagers
who know that he lives just down the road and are ready with their crucifixes
The score by Hungarian Franz Liszt doesnít help. In a special arrangement
by John Lanchbery, it is a flaccid symphonic narrative for a story ballet.
It has a famous dramatic signature -- a lurching trombone fanfare over
a diabolic kettle-drum -- but mostly the music just doesnít sound menacing
or eerie enough.
Through make-up poundage, Stevensonís Dracula moves around his castle
leering at his eighteen ex-wives and swirling his cape like a clumsy vaudevillian.
As for the bejeweled, spoked, thirty-pound cape, Liberace could do more
with it from his grave. The eighteen brides, in shredded white gowns that
billow hauntingly in harrowing jetes, otherwise stalk around like zombies
when not animated at Draculaís command.
In his entrances, Eddie Cieslakís Dracula has effective moments, but he
is too earnest, and shy of a fleshed-out characterization. First appearing
in an archway of his castle battlements, he had an instant visual command,
but his seductions look lounge lizardly rather than hypnotic, and his
solos donít give the character any depth.
He valiantly sticks close to un-dynamic choices by Stevenson, who gives
the Count flourishes from gypsy and ethnic Eastern European dances, but
uses these accents without irony. In contrast, David Krensing (leading
the second cast) jettisoned Stevensonís layers and interpreted a real
character, pacing the gestures more sharply, communicating early that
Dracula is cruel, obsessive, and full of bloodlust.
The one significant solo, sans cape, allows Dracula to breathe in the
role, but Cieslak, atypically faltered on turns that were un-centered
and jumps that were slack-legged. Krensing drew the eye to his hands and
eyes, constructing Draculaís obsessive nature, shown powerfully in his
motionless command over the wives, his deportment regally ruthless, and
where he can, breaking out furiously.
Draculaís trio with ex-wives, Valerie Amiss and Tara Keating, featured
heavy, tensionless lifts. But, his seduction of wayward village girl turned
virgin procurer, Flora (Martha Chamberlain), was more dramatic. Flora,
dumped out of a carriage in her bright appliqued skirt, comes under the
spell of the Count. As Lisztís horns stab, he seduces and moves in for
the bite and recoils, his back leg stabbing back erotically. Both Draculas
handled this crucial moment well, when it could have been too stagy. Krensing
brilliantly acted out the rush of new blood coursing through his veins.
The engagement of Svetlana, the innkeeperís daughter, to the romantic
Fredrick in the town square provides comic relief and for interesting
character parts by Stevenson. He works in authentic ethnic dances and
moves the story along, but the act seems endless. Stevenson throws in
forced divertisement of the villagers that has the women in a schoolyard
ribbon dance. He does better with the men with a pole dance full of double-tours,
but this ends up being a hit and miss unison work for eight men, who seemed
boxed in and unfocused for most of the sequence.
In the romantic leads, Amy Aldridge and Alexei Borovik make the most of
what they had to work with, eliciting little excitement in their saccharine
duet, both with potent solos. Aldridgeís pirouette run, on pointe and
flattened out, were beautifully paced. Borovikís amplitude and clarity
was impressive in air gobbling leaps and sharp grand pirouettes, finishing
off each turn. In cast two, James Ady, returning after a year with American
Ballet Theatre, was perfectly partnered with principal DeDe Barfield.
Ady was virile and playful as he tossed off great jumps and also produced
Martha Chamberlain knew exactly what to do with Flora, especially in her
possessed scene in the town square. Looking a little like Mary Pickford,
Chamberlain acts every bit of the choreography, showing equal amounts
of real fear and melodrama as she comes under the spell of Dracula. And
in the last act, the effective use of lighting and aerials had Flora flown
diagonally over the proscenium in what looked like spectral motion. Philip
Colucci owned Draculaís bug-eating man slave Renfield, hurling his body
across the stage with twisted body barrel leaps and his bent-knee turns,
madman fury. Unfortunately, these parts were too brief.
Next time around for Dracula, PAB should drain-off some of Stevensonís
bloat and go more for the jugular. For this run, itís Nosferatu tu much.
Edited by Lori Ibay
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