Carolina Ballet goes dark with ‘Dracula,’ illustrating fascination with evil and power

Carolina Ballet presents “Dracula” at Fletcher Opera Theater Oct. 11-28.
Carolina Ballet presents “Dracula” at Fletcher Opera Theater Oct. 11-28.

Carolina Ballet’s “Dracula” continues to haunt.

The company’s version, last performed four years ago, has all the punch guest choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett usually brings to her movement theater pieces with Broadway-style elements: giant bat wings, damsels in distress, necklaces of garlic and perfectly rendered expressive dancing.

“Sex and death at the ballet,” Taylor-Corbett said, describing her piece during a recent phone interview. She had just returned from Japan where her “Little Mermaid,” performed last by the Carolina Ballet about two years ago, was seen in Tokyo.

“Dracula” debuted at Fletcher Opera Theater Oct. 11 and will continue with several more shows through Oct. 28.

For Taylor-Corbett’s “Dracula,” she immersed herself first in Bram Stoker’s classic novel.

“I love the language of the book,” she said. ”It’s straight from him, the description of the twisted sisters, it’s all him, very sexual. I wanted to be true to the book. It’s just a good evil story, isn’t it?”

Carolina Ballet presents “Dracula” at Fletcher Opera Theater Oct. 11-28. April Craig

At one point, Dracula couples on a bed with a female victim on stage.

“It’s an adult story,” Taylor-Corbett acknowledged, but said she has seen a lot of people bringing their children. She thinks parents can explain what’s happening as fantasy but said her Dracula may teeter on the edge for some.

Adding to the tension is the score, written by J. Mark Scearce and performed live under conductor Alfred E. Sturgis. Taylor-Corbett said the Hungarian instrument known as the cimbalom is particularly evocative, describing it as “a string instrument like a piano that’s hit with a mallet.”

Her Dracula features narrator Dr. Seward, played by actor Alan Campbell, who has performed the role a number of times, reading from the novel’s letter-style entries.

The production’s overall effect is near perfection. If it falters at all, it’s as if there are multiple endings, a result of Taylor-Corbett trying to follow Stoker’s storyline, perhaps.

And given our times, the piece feels darker than it might otherwise.

“It’s kind of the fascination with evil or power,” Taylor-Corbett said, but added that when she created the piece, “I never thought of it that way when I was doing it. The evil is so tantalizing, but we all feel better when the sun rises.”

Before “Dracula,” artistic director Robert Weiss offers his version of “The Masque of the Red Death,” based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short tale.

The night I saw it, the second cast performed, made up almost exclusively of company dancers and only one named soloist. Yet, the young dancers tackled the physically demanding turns and jumps well, with The Arabian Princess, played by company member Sophie Nelson, a stand-out, marked by her astounding limberness.

The male dancers, when lifting a partner, showed a bit of strain, but that smoothed out. A waltz scene was especially charming, despite the macabre theme of trying to dance away death. At a couple of other points, the swirl of dancers made the stage seem too small. The little lute player, performed by trainee Ayla O’Day, added definite charm.

The inventive choreography resulted in a piece both pleasing and amusing, as if laughing at the gallows.

“That was exactly what I was going for,” Weiss said in a phone interview. He added the red death in Poe’s story resembles the Black Plague in the Middle Ages.

“Since the 1980s,” he said, “many people have used it to talk about AIDS. It’s a metaphor for an epidemic. I rendered it with color and humor but it’s a sad tale.”

As for the stage’s size, Weiss said, “We’re always fighting the space. We’d like it to be bigger.”

He added Raleigh’s Fletcher Opera Theater, though, gives audiences the chance to have more intimate views of the dancers.

Because I just saw the Dresden Semperoper Ballet in its restored, storied Baroque opera house in Germany a few weeks ago, I wanted to ask Weiss about the differences between the two. The German performance included a corps of 27 ballet dancers on stage and 50 performers appearing later.

“We have little less than 40 dancers for our whole company, including trainees,” Weiss said. “We just can’t afford it.”

The stages of European Opera houses, he went on, offer more room for dancers to sail across, given their greater depth.


What: “Dracula”

Where: Fletcher Opera Theater, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

When: Shows are 2 p.m. Oct. 20-21, 27-28; 8 p.m. Oct. 20 and 27; and 7 p.m. Oct. 26 for a speical “Nightmare on South Street” presentation

Event: The Carolina Ballet will host a “Dracula”-themed fundraising party, “Nightmare on South Street,” on Friday, Oct. 26, when the program will include only the Transylvanian piece, along with a costume contest, prizes, dancing on stage in Dracula’s castle with a DJ, and Halloween eats and treats. Tickets are $100.

Tickets: Prices vary by performances. College students are $20 with valid student ID. High school students admitted free with valid student ID. Military discount available.

Info: carolinaballet.com or 919-719-0900, 800-982-2787

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