Performance Carolina Ballet's Dracula

On October 15, I saw Carolina Ballet’s performance of Dracula and The Masque of the Red Death. The Masque of the Red Death is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, and is a new original ballet by Robert Wiess. Both of the ballets were composed by J. Mark Scearce, and Dracula was adapted and choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett.

Messiah by Carolina Ballet. Photo from website

The Masque of the Red Death was interpreted very interestingly. Assuming you know the story: in the beginning, the Red Death dances by himself, interweaving himself throughout the drapes that were hanging onto the stage. The dancers wore black cape-like costumes and leapt across the stage, running from the Red Death.

The different rooms from the story were represented by different couples; there was an Arabian dancer, punchinellos, a harlequin and columbine, a pierrot and pierette, jokers, a ballerina, and a monkey. The main role of the Prince Prospero and his Duchess were represented with dancers who were the Sun and the Moon. The costumes were very vivid and beautiful, and everyone wore masks, as well as the Red Death dancer, who wore a bright red top and pants with what looked like white bones sewn or embroidered onto it, and a peculiar scull mask.

The choreography was very distinct and matched the characters. It wasn’t just choreography to go with the music (which, by the way, was composed for this production) but it was very unique. You could have figured out the character roles without their costumes, because the choreography was in character. This played into the end, when the Red Death dances with each individual dancer in their specific style as he kills them off.

The end was very dramatic. As he kills them all off one by one, they collapse to the floor. The last person alive is the Prince, who grabs the mask off of Red Death’s face and collapses back. Red Death then turns and faces the audience with his mask off, and the spotlight hits him for a split second and the lights cut out right away and everything goes completely dark. It was a very good and very dramatic ending.

A very good aspect of the interpretation in the dancing itself was the pride Red Death had in his dancing. There were a lot of attitude pirouettes, strutting, big jumps, continuous pirouettes in second position, and large open movements of the arms. He communicated pride. The story itself is about the pride of the Prince who decides to host a party in the midst of this horrible illness where people everywhere are dying by seeing the Red Death. The prince is prideful enough to have a party in the middle of it, and Red Death is proud because he can still conquer even the most prideful person in the land. This was well portrayed through the choreography. The choreography itself was very fresh. There was a good mixture of classical movements with newer steps and lifts and movements that I hadn’t seen before, and though I didn’t like all of it, it was interesting and inspiring.

Act 2 was Dracula. For starters, there was a narrator. Normally I don’t like any kind of vocals with ballet (I saw a contemporary modern performance last spring at WCU, and there was a lot of screaming and squealing and screeching, and I hated it). Most of the narration was very good. It accompanied well, but if I were directing it there would have been some big changes. There were times when the narrator was talking while dancers were dancing. I felt this took away from the dancing itself. For instance: In one section, Renfield the mental patient was dancing, and Dr. Seward (the narrator) was speaking to him. Renfield was using pantomime to communicate, while the doctor was speaking. The inconsistency was awkward. This happened again while several of the characters were rushing around just as they were solving the mystery: people were pantomiming, but he was talking. It felt out of place and uncomfortable.

I really liked Renfield. I have a soft spot for insane people, possibly because I’m so much an artist that I often feel insane myself. His movements consisted of awkward poses and crawling on the floor and eating flies and doing silly things like twirling on the actor box he was sitting on. And he had a certain light of crazy in his eye. Strangely enough, I liked him best out of all the characters.
There were some awkward love scenes between vampires and humans. Though the choreographer got the point across, I could have done with less kink and erotic positions and movements. It could have been toned down and still gotten the same idea across less awkwardly. Or maybe I was uncomfortable because I went with a hot date.

One of my favorite parts was the very end, when the peasants and children were running around and hunting the vampire. The sun came up and you could see and feel the burning of Dracula, and Marcelo Martinez did a magnificent job of the dramatic death that was necessary for such a villain. Another aspect of that same death that I liked was as Dracula died, you could also see the bit of his spirit that had been inside Mina leave her. She took this little breath just as he died. However, he was center center stage, and she was right center stage, so a lot of people missed it. I know my date wasn’t the only one (he asked about it later and I filled him in) and it would have been more noticeable if she had been standing right beside him or behind him. It wouldn’t have upstaged him, and it would have been noticeable.

One thing I liked a lot was how they used their scenery. They had one simple scene and a few props, and they used a projector to put up different images: a candle lit room, a graveyard, a house, a castle, a village.

I loved all the costumes except one. I didn’t like Dracula’s costume… or rather I didn’t like the whole thing. The cape was fantastic, the rest of it really was perfect, but my only criticism was something small. It’s pathetic really, and I’m not sure if it was by accident, or if the costume director had a sick sense of humor, but Dracula’s shirt and boot cuffs sparkled. That kind of ruined the moment.
There were some similarities between the two ballets. I don’t know if Wiess tweaked or changed Corbett’s choreography at all, but both ballets included carousels, or pinwheels. This is when all the dancers stand in a formation and move in synch to create a rotating shape. These are very difficult and very impressive, and they were executed very well. There were also sections where a dancer performed a series of turns while others ran around them. This is also very difficult because when a dancer is turning and spotting something, and someone runs in front of them, their eyes naturally want to follow the movement, and their spot can be ruined. Sadly, in the show I saw, the audience wasn’t particularly responsive, and the dancers didn’t get as much applause during the show as they deserved. Luckily, this didn’t diminish their performance in the slightest.

I immensely enjoyed the production, and I would certainly see it again if given the opportunity. I look forward to more great productions from Carolina Ballet.












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