In London virginal girls in flimsy nightgowns bare their necks in ecstasy to Dracula’s teeth while back at his castle vampire brides feast on babies and demons drink wolf blood. WA Ballet’s world premiere of Dracula captures the gothic thriller to perfection in a production that is a creepily enthralling amalgamation of dance, music and design.
Artistic director Aurelien Scannella has broadened the scope, size and skill level of the West Australian Ballet culminating in this ambitious new production choreographed by Krzysztof Pastor, artistic director of both the Polish National Ballet and Lithuanian National Ballet.
The co-production with the Queensland Ballet includes British design duo Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith who designed the company’s highly regarded 2016 Nutcracker. Their meticulously recreated Victorian-era costumes and gothic architecture reference Dracula legends and romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich in a visual feast.
Perhaps most significant to the resounding success of the production is Wojciech Kilar’s music. The Polish composer’s post-minimalist style with its slow-building tension was essential to the success of the Francis Ford Coppola 1992 thriller Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Pastor employed music director Michael Brett to intersperse segments of the film score with music from Kilar’s concert and other film music, creating set pieces and a stronger plot. Brett’s cohesive arrangement was performed with vitality by the WA Symphony Orchestra under Judith Yan.
The grinding low string timbre from Kilar’s symphonic work Kościelec 1909 gave a menacing edge to the scenes from Dracula’s gothic castle, while the sumptuous feel of Mina’s London ballroom was established by the recurring Grand Valse from The Leper. A highlight was the tango from the film Jealousy & Medicine where Pastor’s choreography blended with Kilar’s music for a pas de deux between the solicitor Jonathan Harker and Dracula that was a potent mix of seduction and horror.
Kilar’s mix of driving minimalism and passionate romanticism was perfectly partnered by Pastor’s neoclassical choreography, where contemporary gesture was likewise framed within classical terminology.
The story is essentially a love story between Dracula, heart-broken since the suicide of his wife, and Mina who reminds him of his beloved. It is Mina’s compassion for Dracula that ultimately redeems him from darkness. However there are plenty of victims along the way as the immortal Dracula requires human blood to maintain his youthful appearance. In this production the transformation from old to young was orchestrated in a cleverly choreographed swap between two different dancers.
The compelling unity of music, choreography and staging swept the audience over the occasional humps of kitsch awkwardness (the makeshift carriage with its trotting occupants, the baby doll tossed around the stage) to a thrilling end.
The cast on 11th September were outstanding. Chihiro Nomura was a delicate and passionate Mina, her simultaneous revolt and attraction to Dracula conveyed eloquently in her face and hands. Nina’s fiancé Jonathan Harker was the attentive and unfailingly graceful Gakuro Matsui. Reika Sato’s pointe work as a spellbound, floppy Lucy was outstanding and Ludovico Di Ubaldo was all angles and long limbs as the agitated psychiatric patient Renfield.
Christian Luck was a writhing, contorted Old Dracula, morphing after drinking blood into the Young Dracula, danced by an alluring, wolf-like Oscar Valdes. Dracula was flanked by phantoms Liam Green and Cyprien Bouvier who moved with trance-like synchronicity. The corps de ballet were utterly convincing both as flailing demons and immaculate ballroom dancers, aided by Smith and Daniels’ exquisitely detailed costumes and striking lighting from Jon Buswell.
This brave new production has also been a box office success which will hopefully inspire further new creations and repertoire expansion from WA Ballet.
Dracula runs at His Majesty’s Theatre until September 22.