A world premiere ballet based on Bram Stoker’s Gothic horror novel “Dracula” will kick off the Dayton Ballet’s 2016-17 season.
“Dracula: Bloodlines,” on stage at the Victoria Theatre the weekend of Oct. 21-23, is the perfect lead-up to Halloween this year.
The Signature event for the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance will blend the classic story and characters with a fresh plot and features a new musical score, new choreography and new costumes. Guest vocalists from Dayton Opera — soprano Grace Kahl, mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti, and baritone Tyler Alessi — will also perform.
Although the famous tale, which dates back to 1897, has been told in a variety of forms — prose, play, movie, opera and ballet — this new version by Dayton Ballet’s artistic director, Karen Russo Burke, will explain how the world’s most famous vampire came into existence.
The production marks the first time a live orchestra will accompany a story ballet staged at Dayton’s historic venue. “It’s going to be a wonderful, powerful, exciting show of intense drama,” says Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Neal Gittleman. He says Burke has created “a really cool take on the Dracula story with a first act that tells the back-story of how Prince Vlad of Wallachia became a vampire and a second act that transports the ageless Count to modern times where he meets up with all our favorite Bram Stoker characters.”
Austin Jaquith, professor at Cedarville University, was invited to create new music for the production. He says composing the score flowed quickly from beginning to end because Burke’s characters and story-line were so full of emotion and dramatic energy.
“My strategy was to just take Karen’s adaptation of the Dracula story, and make a fairly direct musical translation of it,” Jaquith explains. “I used some background material from the novel as well, so Dracula’s appearance as a werewolf, a mist, a magnificent gentleman and a bloodthirsty fiend all became musical themes and atmospheres in the ballet.”
Jaquith insists that Burke’s original adaptation is much more than another recounting of the old Dracula story. “Anyone who comes to see this production is going to be absolutely swept off their feet,” he promises.
Burke says the idea for a first act prequel came from her oldest son, who provided great information about past characters such as Vlad the Impaler and Lilith, the Mother of Darkness and Demons. By giving the first act a new twist, she says, she was able to put her own creative spin on the story and to honor past productions as well.
“I have always felt that living forever may not be as wonderful as everyone may think,” Burke adds. “How horrible to lose people you love so many times over. I view Dracula as a victim that is constantly being tortured by the grief of his one true love.”
Peter Kurta, new to the Dayton company, will dance the role of Dracula for two of the four performances. He admits he was both terrified and elated to learn he was being given the important part.
One of the challenges, he says, has been developing Dracula as a character. “The emotions he goes through, the events that happen in his life, they continuously cause his character to grow and manifest into this powerful but complex being,” Kurta says, adding that he has taken the role by the “fangs” and immersed himself completely in it.
Costume designer Ray Zupp says the new production fits perfectly with Dayton’s history of innovation. “The second oldest ballet company in the United States is taking one of the oldest monster tales and reinventing it, bringing not only the company but the story itself into a new era,” he says.
Zupp, who grew up on The Munsters, Addams Family, Tim Burton and Vincent Price, says the Dayton team had the opportunity to reinvent the way the audience looks at the world of Dracula. We tend to instantly visualize Stoker’s Victorian London,” says Zupp. “In our story, we see two wildly contrasting time periods the first act is set in the 15th century and the second in the 21st century. “
While doing historical research, Zupp says, he was inspired by artwork from across the centuries and then added his “favorite kind of dark fantasy twist.” He and Dayton Ballet’s wardrobe supervisor Lyn Baudendistel spent hours in New York City’s garment district looking for the perfect fabric for each character. “For me, the story of each character lives in the fabric,” he explains, adding that in ballet the audience is not given lines and cannot be told the story of each character. They must be shown it. “Lyn would often find me in-between the massive aisles of stacked high fabrics, spinning lengths of the materials around in front of me or above my head. I wanted to be certain of how it would move, how it would hit the light,” Zupp says.
The color scheme in the production, he adds, is very particular. “We are linking centuries of lifetimes together, which must be immediately visually recognized by the audience. It is a heightened dark fantasy… the iconic Vlad in his blood reds, Lilith in her black, green and golds.”
A CONDUCTOR’S SPECIAL CHALLENGES
One of Gittleman’s challenges is the adjustment to an orchestra pit that’s not nearly as spacious as the one in the Schuster Center. “The Schuster is meant to comfortably hold 65-75 musicians,” he explains. “The Victoria Theatre pit holds maybe 25. And even though composer Austin Jaquith has custom-made the new score for 23 players and is an orchestrational wizard who makes it sound like there’s a lot more people playing, the Vic pit is a tight squeeze.”
He says it’s also awkward for him to be positioned high up in order to see the dancers’ feet. Although some television monitors will be utilized, the musicians will have to crane their necks a bit to see his baton. “I have to look both up toward the stage and those dancers’ feet and down toward the musicians,” Gittleman explains. “And the audience has to never know how awkward that is!”
Gittleman says when Dayton’s three major performing arts organizations decided to merge, one of the goals was to create new works, especially those that would integrate all three art forms.
“This production is special because it shows that we were really serious about creating new works,” Gittleman said. “Beyond that, it’s a really exciting project with a really effective and colorful 95-minute score. People will be wowed by the choreography and the dancing — and the blood!”
Want to go?
WHAT: “Dracula: Bloodlines,” a world premiere presented by the Dayton Ballet. This Signature event from the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance also features the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and Dayton Opera.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20; 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21 and Saturday, Oct. 22 and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23.
WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton
TICKETS: $21 to $72 available at Ticket Center Stage (937) 228-3630 or online at www.daytonperformingarts.org. Senior, teacher and student discounts available at box office.
RELATED PROGRAMMING: Before each performance, Dayton Ballet Artistic Director Karen Russo Burke will hold a pre-performance talk called “The First Step,” giving audience members a more in-depth look at the upcoming performance and a behind-the-scenes peek at Dayton Ballet. “Her program is held 45 minutes prior to curtain time for each performance in the Burnell Roberts Room at 126 N. Main St., beside the Victoria Theatre.
“Behind the Ballet,” a Q&A with dancers that gives audiences the opportunity to learn more about the life of a dancer with Dayton Ballet, will follow each performance in the theater. “The First Step” and “Behind the Ballet” sessions are free of charge for all ticketholders.