Vlad the Impaler, the original real his- torical figure from which sprung Bram Stoker’s fictional , blood-sucking anti- hero and the emergence of ballet as a dance art form are separated by less than a century, give or take.
It seemed to many that Dracula’s story—the one Bram Stoker wrote in the era of Victoria’s buttoned-up, repressed England—and ballet might make for a dreamy narrative match on the stage. That’s exactly what happens in the Washington Ballet production of “Dracula,” choreographer Michael Pink’s gory, heated, very bloody and seductive version of the tale at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, now through Nov. 4.
Narrative ballet—from “Swan Lake”, to “Don Quixote,” to “Romeo and Julet”—as opposed to more abstract works of modern dance, have always seemed to me like the dream version of a story, it’s dreamt essence lying at the core of the tale, just as opera is fevered version of the same tale, with the emotions riding on the music, and drama and plays carry the narrative with character and words.
On those terms, “Dracula” surely feels like a dream, even if that dream resembles more often than not a nightmare. Actually, it begins with a nightmare, one dreamt by the much- put-upon Jonathan Harker. This “Dracula” is remarkably faithful to the Stoker tale, with its bedeviled, haunted Harker, the bug-eating, madhouse resident Renfield, who acts as a kind of portal for Dracula, the beguiling Lucy and her swains, Lord Arthur Godalming and the rifle-toting, buckskin-wearing American Quincy Morris, a very romantic-looking, Byronian Dr. Van Helsing, and Mina, Harker’s fiancé, the real object of Dracula’s sinister affections, as well as assorted couples, female vamps, gendarmes, and peasants, including a horde of infected victims of Dracula.
The production itself lets out all the stops with Lez Brotherson providing a set and costume design that encompasses Dracula hallmarks — the stark sanatorium, the imposing staircases, the castle, the graveyard, beds and cof- fins, all bathed in a score by Phillip Feeney full of bells and whistles and screeches and pounding heartbeats, the ominous sounds of a hungry heart accompanied by an impending feeding frenzy.
This production, (which was originally directed by Christopher Gable) has different casts in different productions, with Jared Nelson cast in the red-caped and ninja-black role of Dracula. This is about Dracula, no question, and his overpowering will to feast. The production – a nerve-wracking and haunting two hours plus event is wrapped, and stacked around the architecture of three seductions in which Dracula overpowers Harkin, visiting his castle on business, the flirtatious, enchanting Lucy at what appears to be a gala brunch of couples moving up and down a staircase, into chairs and out on to a dance floor, and Nina at night, alone in a bed, beckoning her to his bloody, bared chest.
These dances—and that’s what they are, almost classic manifestations of ballet, but also almost Olympic-style athletic feats—show us Dracula’s magnetic, physical powers, as well as his hypnotic powers and for Nelson—and also for the dynamic Jyum-Woong Kim—the require- ments for the parts are a display of emotions, strength and lean-muscled strength so that the effect on the audience is as hypnotic as those of his victims.
These three pa-de near-deaths are interjected like a stiletto into the production, which includes the desperate presence of Renfield, a kind of ritualized, loud, brazen and bloody peasant folk dance which ends with the sacrifice of a wolf.
In England, there’s a ball, and as much flirtatious, happy, stylized, fashionista and high energy style dancing to make you almost forget who’s coming to dinner. In this production, Nicole Haskins, makes for a heartbreaking Lucy, she’s so full of energy, such forgiveable flirtation that her submission to Dracula and her trans- formation into a bloody-tooth, virally hungry otherbeing is a tragedy.
The presence of Dracula—for the audi- ence—even when he’s not in plain sight provides the tension of a violin bow, it speeds up the nar- rative, no matter what’s happening. This way, it becomes an adventure tale which moves to a kind of action climax, one, by the way which is as graphically violent as a stage production can
Pink’s “Dracula” is like a loud, almost unbearably and frightening dream, the tale remembered at some primal level, becoming real. In this season, that’s not a bad fright night.?