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EMAV Review: NBT sinks its teeth into menacing and moody 'Dracula'

★★★★½ - Delicious

In the spirit of Halloween, Nevada Ballet Theatre gave a haunting presentation of Ben Stevenson's 1997 neoclassical ballet "Dracula" last weekend at the Smith Center. Full of sensational visual effects and otherworldly dancing, the show was led by artistic director Roy Kaiser in his first full season with NBT, and rehearsed by répétiteur Dominic Walsh, who worked extensively with Stevenson. On Friday night the second cast was haunted by a few mishaps, perhaps due to nerves. But the house was full and the audience appreciative, and seemed just as beguiled by the sinister Count Dracula as his minions who populated the stage.

Choreographer Stevenson kept the setting in Transylvania for his scenario, and altered the narrative of Bram Stoker's 1897 gothic novel--discarding some characters and creating new ones with their own storyline--to better fit the structure of a story ballet in the vein of romantic classics of the Victorian era. For the musical score Stevenson and music arranger John Lanchbery chose pieces by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, who was also contemporary to the time and whose piano-driven style fit their aesthetic.

The stylized choreography and design--scenery by Thomas Boyd, costumes by Judanna Lynn, and lighting by Christina R. Giannelli (after Tim Hunter, executedby Peter Jakubowski))--also seem influenced by German Expressionism, particularly in the first and third acts in Dracula's dark and foggy castle. The silent film "Nosferatu" (and its underlying campiness) seems an inspiration for some of Stevenson's movements for Dracula's 18 undead Brides, who are a surreal corps de ballet as they move with arms outstretched and hands and fingers bent into claws. Their wraithlike movement also reminds of the Wilis from the ballet "Giselle."

Dracula, danced by Benjamin Tucker with a sensuous and sardonic vibe, pulsates his hand like a magnet so the Brides follow his command. They look like eerie apparitions with their white hair, skin, and tattered, diaphanous gowns, which the dancers flick as they move so the fabric looks like traces of ectoplasm hanging in the air. They glide about in serpentine formations and fall like dominoes in a circle, and there's a neat pas de six with quick, sequential movements. And Tucker with Brides Brooke Lyness and Rachel Thomson perform a fascinating pas de trois of symbolically sexual lifts and promenades.

This Dracula is a lusty fellow, and he quenches his thirst by feeding on beautiful young maidens. His crazed, bug-gobbling assistant Renfield, danced with acrobatic, manic energy by Robert Mulvey, kidnaps Flora from the peasant village nearby, and delivers her in a ghostly carriage drawn by skeleton horses. Christina Ghiardi as Flora has an effortless quality of movement with delicate phrasing, and transforms believably from innocent maiden to snarling ghoul. Dracula ravishes her during their pas de deux, and while she and Tucker had problems with a few lifts they delivered on many others, like when he carries her like a rag doll on his hip as she tries in vain to run away. He glides Flora and all his victims around because they are powerless to resist.

Horror and hopelessness segues to lightness and joy during the second act in the picturesque peasant village, when townsfolk gather to celebrate the courtship of coquette Svetlana, danced by Betsy Lucas, and young Frederick, danced by Michael Caye. In contrast to the monochrome tone of Dracula's castle, the town and its people are colorful and full of life. The corps perform an energetic folk dance with a ribbon/maypole dance for the girls and a pole dance for the boys, along with a charming character dance performed by Enrico DeMarco as the Innkeeper and Krista Baker as his Wife. And there's an excellent miming sequence by Monika Rostomian as the Old Woman, recounting stories about her life.

Lucas and Caye compliment each other both physically and personality-wise, though here too there were problems with lifts. But they both craft vibrant characterizations and pull off difficult dancing in their variations that sometimes have awkward movements. Lucas is luminous as she delivers turns both en pointe and with flat foot and gives some deft demi-ballonés, and Caye tosses of beautiful leaps and tours a la seconde. Then Dracula shows up to ruin it all.

He abducts Svetlana but before he transforms her into a bride with his bite, Frederick and the villagers arrive at the castle to thwart his evil ambitions. It's a scene of madness and mayhem, but good triumphs over evil and Dracula perishes in the most explosive way. The flying effects (by Flying by Foy) are so good it's impossible to tell that Dracula has a stunt double, played by Robert Fulton. And Dracula's gorgeous, heavy velvet cape, which looks like a bat with a huge wingspan, must be daunting to dance in.

NBT's lush presentation of "Dracula" is a phantasmagorical treat.

Photos by Alicia Lee Photography

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