The Undead Can Dance
September 23, 2006
Wortham Center, Houston, TX
Blood, ballet, fangs, and fun. Who knew they would make a suck-u-lent combo? The folks at Houston Ballet did, who launched into October with a revival of Ben Stevenson's dark classic, Dracula. Dancing close enough to the edge of camp to delight diehard goth fans, Stevenson packs a wallop of finely crafted choreography in his brooding tale of a bloodthirsty monster and unsuspecting village people.
Stevenson sets his Dracula as a prequel to Bram Stoker's classic novel; this way our not-so-dead Dracula, energetically danced by James Gotesky, can whip off technical bravura while swishing his magnificent 40-lb cape. Stevenson surrounds Dracula with a harem of zomberinas, dressed in tattered wedding ware and odd looking goldilocks wigs. (In Texas even the undead are blond.) The brides, complete with sleepwalking arms and blank stares, swarm about keeping the chill in the air. Apparently, 18 blonds aren't enough, so he sent his henchman, Renfield, to fetch Flora for some fresh red-haired blood. The scene ends in an erotic bite scene while the brides grope at their new found soon-to-be-pale sister. Gotseky nails sexy-creepy in his robust portrayal of the famous Count and opens the whole murky world of victim/villain relations.
Thomas Boyd knows full well how to decorate for a vampire with his off balance crypt, poised with chandeliers that look as if they just might crash down any second. Boyd's inspired coach complete, with strange half-human half-horse coachmen, moves more like a crab, and lends a juicy nightmarish quality.
Leticia Oliveira, just two days into principalhood (she was promoted in a dramatic post-performance announcement on opening night), conjures old world romantic style combined with rock-solid technique in her portrayal of Svetlana, the belle of Transylvania. Ian Casady, as Frederick, Svetlana's heartthrob and part-time vampire slayer, danced with a reckless abandon I rarely see on the ballet stage. So what if he wobbled, he had just won his love's hand in marriage and (unbeknownst to him) he was about to incinerate Dracula. Oliveira and Casady rock the village with their love-struck passion in a joyous pas de deux that is chock full of surprising, yet natural partnering. Nothing looks forced in Oliveira and Casady's stirring coupling. For a good while the audience forgets that trouble, of the dark and bloody kind, lies ahead. Once the weather changes from sunny Los Angeles to gloomy Buffalo, Boyd's foreboding set does its work. Cleverly, he ramps up the anxiety level in his quaint village with leafless branches, craggy grey cliffs, and an open gate to unknown dangers. I wanted to scream, "Wrap it up folks, something fanged is this way coming!" Sure enough, the sneaky mothman (according to Dracupedia he travels by turning into a moth) slips in to steal away Svetlana, the village darling.
Frederick, along with a crucifix bearing priest, arrives at the castle just in time to save the day, and cook Dracula, first with sunlight, then with some snazzy pyrotechnics involving an exploding chandelier. Dracula ends up smoked, Frederick gets the un-bitten girl, and old Renfield is left spinning in circles below his demon master. Love and light win over blood-lust any day.
All in all, the Houston Ballet performed this gothic blast of a ballet with a noble charm, with a wonderful sense for the vampire tradition. The moral of this story: always check the wiring in the castle, never leave home without your crucifix, and be wary of friends caring a vile of their native soil.