by Zosia Czarnecka
Alberta Ballet has swooped in to revive the lingering Halloween aura with a masterful production of Dracula this weekend. The company debuts their sixth decade with a breathtaking set commissioned in Chile, an astounding hand-embroidered 20-lb vampire cape, and special effects including a full-sized carriage tumbling onto stage and pyrotechnics erupting in the finale. There are many cultural showcases in Edmonton that can be unpredictable in quality, but the Alberta Ballet company (now in the hands of Jean Grand-Maître) is one I can always count on to surprise, inspire, and astound me.
The astute Sir Ben Stevenson brings the classic tale to stage with an unprecedented choice of Franz Liszt’s score to accompany a classical ballet with tumultuous suspense, perfectly paired with coruscating comic relief. Stevenson’s choreography soars to a new dimension, with Dracula’s brides flying over the stage and the Count (played by Kelley McKinlay) descending from the ceiling to keep the audience engaged as they track subtle details such as Flora’s passing of the garlic garland to the beautiful Svetlana – Dracula’s next target.
This story of lust is nearly unrecognizable from Bram Stoker’s original Gothic novel. The ghastly stalking and hunting instinct of the animalistic vampire have been transformed into a lust-driven, sultry, almost elegant Count Dracula whose sole aspiration is to corral women into his castle’s crypt, making the plot too brief and simplistic for the three-act ballet. Perhaps this tale of seduction would have been easier to follow if the playbook’s synopsis were slightly more detailed. While other Alberta Ballet productions have been classical tales ranging from the time-honoured Nutcracker to Shakespeare’s Othello, Dracula is a story that has been adapted beyond recognition and a more thorough playbook synopsis would have better prefaced the show. Regardless, Sir Stevenson’s choreography is brilliant and his use of classical ballet to capture the raw, moral essence of allurement is tantalizing.
Whether you agree with Stevenson’s interpretation of the classic tale or not, you are guaranteed to be seduced by the experienced storyteller’s production. One quick glance at the dancers’ feet will astound you when you notice the intricate, rapid movements of the stunned brides. When the portent Kelley McKinlay entered as Dracula, I immediately anticipated unquestioned talent from the company. I was not disappointed when the second act ended with stunning solos by Garrett Groat and Mariko Kondo (Svetlana) at the end of their engagement, right before the Count shows up to steal the bride-to-be.
Dracula plays once more tonight, and the 50th anniversary season continues with the immortal Nutcracker from December 8th till 11th in Edmonton followed by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in the New Year. If Dracula is a testament to what Grand-Maître has in store, this season is bound to be as unforgettable as the last.
Banner photography courtesy of Paul McGrath.