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Murder? Mayhem? Lust? It must be the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Halloween may be over but Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet kept its blood-curdling spirit alive Thursday night at UB’s Center for the Arts with their critically-acclaimed ballet production of Dracula (1998) as part of the Center’s M&T Bank Dance Series.

Murder, mayhem, love and lust mixed with a modicum of levity, made for a tantalizingly frightening and entertaining evening of dance the Center for the Arts audience appreciatively drank in and rewarded with a standing ovation at its end.

Set to music by Gustav Mahler, the highly theatrical production choreographed by Mark Godden was based on Irish author Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror novel.  Unlike other Dracula ballets in circulation, Godden’s turned more of its attention on the character of Lucy Westenra, the friend of central characters in Stoker’s novel Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker.  The entire first act of the 2-act ballet was devoted to her story. In it, Lucy, portrayed with deft acting and dancing skills by RWB second soloist Sarah Davey, had been the victim of Dracula’s bite and was showing signs of illness and erratic behavior.  When her three suitors and Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Thiago Dos Santos) were summoned to care for her, Lucy vacillated between being a charming hostess and engaging in paranoid fits of fear and rage. Davey, a la the ballet Giselle’s famous “mad scene,” wonderfully drifted her gaze to a far-off place no one else could see then snapped her focus back with fervent intensity, racing about the stage with wild expressions of fear and anger looking to either escape out the bedroom window of her English estate or sink her teeth into the flesh of one of her suitors.

Godden laced the action together with well-crafted contemporary ballet movement phrases danced by Lucy’s maids, her suitors and Van Helsing that elegantly created the mood of each scene while smartly advancing the storyline.

After repeated attempts to cure Lucy of what Van Helsing suspected was blood loss from a vampire bite, Lucy was visited by Dracula, portrayed with powerful command by RWB soloist Josh Reynolds, who ravenously sunk his teeth into her neck and fatally weakened her again.

In the first of a few scenes Godden added to bring a bit of humor into the dark ballet and perhaps make it more family-friendly, Lucy was visited by a quartet of mischievous gargoyles that danced around her bed before she appeared to die.

The fast-moving first act concluded with Lucy, now one of the undead, rising from her coffin and attacking her three suitors and Van Helsing who then fended off her lustful attempts to suck their blood with crosses and spear-like wooden stakes, finally killing her by beheading her with a shovel.

Act 2 opened with a zany vaudeville-like pantomime recap of the ballet’s story so far along with an introduction of Mina and Jonathan and the story that was about to unfold.  As much to reassure younger audience members that the frightening events onstage were not real as to catch the audience up, the unusual and creative scene was a laugh-out-loud fun. Next, Godden took even more creative license with Stoker’s story by adding a bacchanal in which a wolf (Yosuke Mino) and his female human partner (Alanna McAide) along with dancers in period-inspired costumes from various lands (Rome, Spain, China) engaged in a bit of visual fireworks meant to show off RWB’s skilled dancers.

When the story picked up again, Mina, portrayed by RWB principal dancer Jo-Ann Sundermeier and Harker, danced by Tyler Carver were hold-up in a Budapest convent after Harker had fallen ill after visiting  Dracula’s castle on real estate dealings. Harker had chronicled his bizarre encounter at the castle with three seductresses in a diary Mina was now reading and becoming titillated by.  Sensing her secret desire to be a part of this world, Dracula kidnapped Mina to his castle where he attempted to seduce her during a spellbinding pas de deux performed with passion by Sundermeier and Reynolds.

The marvelous production ended with Jonathan, Van Helsing and Lucy’s three suitors coming to the aide of Mina, cornering and impaling Dracula on wooden spear where he hung lifeless as the curtain fell.

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