I’m a huge fan of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” so I wondered just how well the poetic novel would translate on stage.
Would we be privy to the actual story, or is this just a dance interpretation of its overall mood? Will the costumes be elaborate enough to capture the styles of the Victorian era? Can one stage harbor enough props and backdrops needed to transport us from a crumbling castle in the Carpathian Mountains to the posh, upper-crust settings of London? Can the dancers convey the necessary grief and rage and pain and eroticism necessary to capture the darkness of the late 1890s masterpiece? How chilling is the music? How will blood be handled? Will there even be blood?
Oh yes. There is plenty of blood.
There is plenty of blood, plenty of transportive devices, plenty of beautiful clothing, plenty of pain and rage and grief, plenty of eroticism, and plenty of audience members who will be gasping, “How did they do that?”
“Dracula” is the story of a centuries-old Transylvanian count wooing his way out of his miserable castle and into the brighter, more modern streets of London. We watch the tale as it’s brought into focus by Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor who is summoned to the Count’s home to finalize the purchase of Londonian properties and tie up the loose ends of business. As a guest, Harker is amazed at the grounds and at the eloquence of his host. As a prisoner, Harker is seduced and terrified by the man he later knows as a monster. He is able to escape to London back to his betrothed, Mina. Little did he know that the Count is fast on his heels.
The Atlanta Ballet’s dancers, under the guidance of choreographer Michael Pink, perform the story with intense passion focusing not only on the obvious elements of terror and emotional invasion, but also on the subtleties of superstition and predeliction. Mouth agape, I watched as grizzled wolves, ensconced in a thick, curling fog, skulked along the floor and crawled down a spiral staircase to open the show. Lightning flashed across the darkened sky and the horrifying loneliness of their intended victim, as he lay thrashing in a rickety bed, serving as a powerful omen: Atlanta Ballet isn’t going to sugarcoat this story.
Mallets hammer at darkly-tuned bells, the jarring crack of wooden sticks cut through the shrillness of tense strings, the glissando of muted trombones slink through macabre scales, and discordant French horns bellow and lament in the shadows of the pit.
The dance company for this performance is surprisingly large. An assembly of Gypsies performs a spectacular ritual intended to ward off bad spirits and to coerce Harker not to visit the Count. Fastidiously dressed London Town partygoers revel in style, their tailored garments a testament to the style of the time. An eroded group of undead emerge from crypts, writhing and intertwining in anticipation of their master’s return.
The intimacy of the smaller dances is where the talent is most honed. Dracula’s physical possession of Mina Harker is particularly breathtaking. From the moment his hands are laid upon her terrified frame, she is whisked from her bed and held skyward becoming more and more his unwitting lover than his victim in a romantic and unsettling series of powerful maneuvers.
Whether it’s the low, braying horn of an approaching cargo ship or the timpanic thunder of an impending storm, the experience is truly immersive. The howling of Dracula’s wolves and the wailing of bite-victims is an apt supplement to the beautiful live score, steeping observers even further into the action.
Those who aren’t familiar with the book (or movies) need not worry that they won’t understand what’s going on. The dancers of Atlanta Ballet are prepared to tell the story through a silent, though expansive, vocabulary over astonishing backdrops. There are dark and sexual elements to the performance that I would recommend parents beware of.
Bring a date! Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and one would be remiss to sit this one out in lieu of the traditional dinner-and-drinks date. There is plenty to imbibe at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and lovebirds can commemorate the evening by purchasing some of the merchandise (such as signed ballet slippers and “Dracula” T-shirts) in the lobby.
Without question, this experience is a “don’t miss.”
Atlanta Ballet’s Dracula
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Pkwy 30339
Feb. 9, 2013 – 2 p.m.
Feb. 9, 2013 – 8 p.m.
Feb. 10, 2013 – 2 p.m.
Feb. 14, 2013 – 8 p.m.
Feb. 15, 2013 – 8 p.m.
Feb. 16, 2013 – 8 p.m.
Tickets from $20 – $135
For more info, visit www.CobbEnergyCentre.com or call (770) 916-2800.