Forget the NBA lockout! During the past two weeks, there was far more meaningful drama on the stage at the Capitol Theatre. While the NBA danced around who in the league should make a gazillion dollars, the team that cared the most about its own community danced into the hearts of sold-out audiences right here in Salt Lake City.
If you were mildly observant, you probably noticed that over the past two months, Dracula was popping up throughout Salt Lake City on billboards and busses. It seemed that everywhere I turned, there was Beau Pearson, the face of Dracula! I even saw ads for Dracula at my local garden supply store. Ballet West was clearly ramping up its advertising, but what I didn’t know was that they knew something that I didn’t; but I soon found out. So, if you missed Dracula, then you missed out. And that’s just a fact.
Now let’s just get this out of the way. I saw Dracula four times. Yes… Dracula, the ballet. Four times. And let me add… I saw it with the same person three of those times, and for that person, one ballet performance is normally plenty. When I asked if he wanted to go a second time and he said yes, I was quite surprised. But then when I asked him if he wanted to join me for closing night and he again said yes, that told me all I needed to know.
Dracula crossed over. Or rather, new audiences crossed over to Ballet West. I believe Artistic Director Adam Sklute said that Dracula is not just about classical ballet and that it would be a performance that appeals to audiences of all ages. He was right. I talked with people who said that this was their first ballet ever and they absolutely loved it! One patron said that as a writer she completely forgot how easy it actually can be to tell a story without words. She and her companion were blown away by the performance. Two new fans, check!
So back to the four performances. My original intention was to see Dracula on opening night. That was it. But I had an incredible interview with the opening night Dracula, Easton Smith, and he got me so excited about the show and the different casts that I immediately turned around and got tickets for a second performance.
Opening night was AWESOME. I literally sat on the edge of my seat and giggled as the curtain rose. There was such excitement at the theatre, and the music was to die for (thank you Franz Liszt!), especially Dracula’s ominous piano “theme” that still plays in my head. That opening night performance was everything that a season opener should be! The following day I saw Cast 2, with Beau Pearson as Dracula, and again, a pretty stellar performance! Before Act 1 was even half finished, I was itching to see Act 1 all over again! This IS a ballet, right? Right.
With two performances behind me, I wrote an article about both. I couldn’t contain my excitement about Ballet West and Dracula, and I wanted people to see pictures and get just as excited about seeing it as I was. And even having seen two back-to-back performances, I still wanted to see it again! I didn’t think I would, but I was invited to see Cast 3 and with some intense arm twisting (complete sarcasm here) I finally agreed to attend a third show. But that wasn’t quite enough for me. I had wanted to see Cast 1 again, and as they were the closing night cast I thought it would be the perfect way to end the Dracula run. Crazy? No. Exciting and Fun? You bet!
Having the opportunity to see all three casts, it was impossible not to compare the dancers. And I could never find fault with one of them. They are all wonderfully talented artists who each brought something different to their character, and some even played different characters in different casts. For example, Beau Pearson played Dracula in Cast 2, but he played the role of the Priest in Cast 3. And Christopher Sellars played a villager on opening night in Cast 1, Renfield in Cast 2, and the Innkeeper on closing night. It’s quite evident that the dancers work extremely hard and are committed to a variety of challenging roles, and the end result is Q-U-A-L-I-T-Y.
There were, however, some performances that stood out for me and here are some of my favorite moments:
Christopher Ruud – Frederick. Chris Ruud was the third Frederick that I saw. He is an amazing dancer, so he brought great dancing strength to this role and to his partner Elizabeth McGrath. They were a wonderful pairing! But where he really shined was in his comedy. Frederick does a little celebratory drinking during Act 2, but Chris really played up his tipsy state. His body and face gestures were extremely well acted, and I laughed out loud when Chris fell out of a spin, landed on his butt, and walked away dizzy and burping. He really made me laugh and I had a smile on my face during the whole act!
Christopher Sellars – Renfield, Villager and Innkeeper. What I love about Chris Sellars besides his dancing is how he connects with the audience. No matter what role he is dancing, he has this ability to reach out and somehow bring you in to his space and dance for you. That connection, combined with Chris’ dancing ability always makes me look forward to seeing him. He brings great energy to every move and, to me, he just pops! I saw him in three different roles, and his portrayal of Renfield was outstanding. He ate bugs in a way that had kids yelling ‘eeewwwwww’, and he swung around Dracula’s bed in Act 3 so fiercely that I thought the bed was going to come crashing down onto the stage. It was insane but exciting!
Haley Henderson – Flora and Dracula Bride. Haley was a bride of Dracula in Cast 1 and then Flora in Cast 3. All the brides were graceful, beautiful and creepy, and I absolutely loved them! But in Cast 1, Haley’s pas de trois in Act 1 with Dracula and another bride was mesmerizing! Everything about the trio was perfection! In her trance-like state, it was like watching a creepy doll going through graceful and precise motions for her master.
As Flora, Haley was just wicked. With her red hair, she looked like Nicole Kidman (never a bad thing!), and she had a glimmer in her eyes and an evil smirk on her lips. There was an obvious point in her dance with Dracula where she suddenly and voluntarily ‘gives in’ to him, and I didn’t notice this in the first two Floras. When I saw Cast 1 again, I looked for it specifically and did see it with Christiana Bennett, but it was less obvious. With Haley, it was as though all of a sudden she was completely turned on by Dracula and what and who he was and she just said, “Yes! I’ll be yours!” When Dracula does finally take her, she wickedly welcomes his lustful attack and it looks like she just absolutely digs it! So fun!
One other thing that I must mention is that in Act 2 when Dracula takes off in his carriage towards his castle, Flora (Haley), who is standing on the back of the carriage, abruptly and perfectly in time with the music flings her body in a backwards arch that completely convinced me that Haley has no ribs! With her head practically bent back to her knees, the curtain lowered and you could nearly hear the creepy, cackling laughter as the carriage sped away. Loved it!
Michael Bearden and Katherine Lawrence – Frederick and Svetlana (Cast 1). All I’m going to say here is that Katherine made me cry. As I watched Michael and Katherine dance their pas de deux in Act 2 on closing night, I got so caught up in the moment that not only did my eyes well up, I had to wipe away the tears from my cheeks as they took their bows. Pretty special moment.
Easton Smith – Dracula. Each Dracula was different, but Easton was my favorite. I think Easton made a remarkable Dracula in part because of his height. When he spread his arms to extend Dracula’s cape, the full span of the cape could be seen. In Act 1 alone, as Dracula is silhouetted against the darkness, with his arms out and cape fully extended, he was an imposing force on the stage.
I found Easton to be a very strong dancer and partner who seemed to lift his partners with great ease. For example, in Act 3 when he horizontally lifts Katherine Lawrence’s Svetlana, it’s as if he’s picking up a piece of paper. She seemed weightless, almost too light for him. It’s my favorite move of the whole ballet!
I really can’t say enough about how wonderful Dracula was. Each night that I was there, it seemed to be a fairly full house, and the Tuesday night closing performance of Dracula, the day after Halloween, was completely packed! It may as well have been a Friday night performance, and there was a great energy all around.
Dracula was a great story ballet that had all the emotional elements you expect from a love story – love, heartache, horror, blood sucking and death – and it was my favorite performance by Ballet West that I’ve seen, and heard. Congratulations to everyone at Ballet West and the Utah Chamber Orchestra that was truly outstanding! It really was Fang-tastic!
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