Madison Ballet's Dracula
The Friday night performance of Dracula by Madison Ballet was met with a boisterous standing ovation and multiple curtain calls. The obvious excitement about the ballet, a multimedia affair with a live seven-piece rock band, video projections, flashing lights and provocative costumes was merited, though this original work by artistic director W. Earle Smith sometimes seemed overwrought and overthought. The production continues through this Sunday at Overture Center's Capitol Theater.
The dancing was topnotch throughout, but I didn't need to be further convinced that it was a daring "rock ballet" by seeing three dancers play air guitar. As George Balanchine once said, "In ballet a complicated story is impossible to tell ... We can't dance synonyms." Smith (sporting a red-plumed mohawk in honor of the production) distills Bram Stoker's Dracula in this production, but you'll still want to read the program's synopsis of the 1897 gothic-horror novel.
The story begins with Jonathan Harker (Brian Roethlisberger), a solicitor who travels to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula (Matthew Linzer) with some legal issues. Here, he gets seduced by Dracula's sultry vampire brides and narrowly escapes with his life. Dracula then travels to England, where he makes the acquaintance of Harker's fiancée, Mina (the gorgeous Jennifer Tierney), and her friend Lucy (a vivacious Marguerite Luksik). Dracula feeds on Lucy and is interrupted by Mina, who has sensed trouble. Mina and Harker team up with a doctor named Van Helsing (Jacob Ashley) to confront Lucy, who has become a full-blown vampire, and then do battle with Dracula and his minions.
Madison composer Michael Massey has done excellent work here, especially in the music for Harker's travels, a solo by a kooky mental patient named Renfield (James Stevko), and Lucy's first solo. The band sounds good, and there are plenty of blistering guitar solos.
Costume designer Karen Brown-Larimore had fun with steampunk elements for this show. My favorite costumes were Van Helsing's outfit, Mina's smart little jacket and the sexy gowns for Dracula's brides and vampire Lucy.
Jen Trieloff has constructed an impressive set, which needed to be safe, sturdy and good looking since the dancers often dart across the different levels and climb up and down the platforms. Unfortunately, the set is hard to see as Roethlisberger performs his first solo.
Roethlisberger is a nice dancer, very efficient and clean, but looked a little uncomfortable getting down with Mina in Act II since he wasn't as loose as some of the other dancers. Linzer is an imposing presence with swirling jackets and long locks. We don't get to see as much dancing from him until his dramatic death scene, in which he slurps up his own blood. Ashley is a powerful mover and intense character, but he had a few moments where he looked a little dazed. Luksik shines, as usual, especially when showing Mina what's what in a daredevil solo full of tricky balances and off-kilter allegro phrases. Later she took my breath away as she hurled herself at her attackers in her tomb scene. She flew through the air magnificently during a series of treacherous lifts.
Stevko is a delight in his solo, which involves bug eating, a straitjacket and a flash of his private parts. Tierney's performance is lovely as well. We see her character go from prissy to passionate as her interest in Dracula awakens her desire. After an intentionally pert solo, she surrenders to the ecstasy of Smith's choreography. All the while, she wows with her lovely technique. Even more arresting is the way she engages with the audience and the rest of the cast. In her very slinky pas de deux with Dracula, you think he is in total control, particularly as manipulates her body around his, but her glances at him during a series of arabesques show that he may have met his match.
Smith has produced some elaborate lifts and beautiful partnering work for this ballet, and some signature steps help establish the characters. Dracula's brides should be commended for dancing with sultry abandon, particularly Shannon Quirk, who fiercely attacked her role. The minions -- a group of bare-chested men with tribal tattoos and women in skimpy bandeaus and red, floor-length skirts -- were crowd pleasers, but sometimes they weren't quite in unison when they should have been.
Kudos to Smith and his creative team for bringing something thought provoking and new to Madison. I hope this production will get first-time audience members curious about the story, score and steampunk elements. I found plenty to enjoy even though I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the production's edgy intensity.