Dark and dangerous

9 September 2018

Review: West Australian Ballet, Dracula (co-production with Qld Ballet) ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 6 September ·
Review by Amy Wiseman ·

West Australian Ballet’s Dracula is a visually arresting, two-act neoclassical ballet, designed with adults rather than younger audience members in mind. A world premiere by Polish choreographer Krzysztof Pastor, the work is an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s late 19th century Gothic horror novel of the same name.

A darker ballet than the company’s usual repertoire, both in theme and decor, Dracula instantly wows the viewer with  jaw-dropping sets and sumptuous costumes (by Phil R. Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith), and stunning lighting design (by Jon Buswell). The prologue introduces us to Young Count Dracula, played on opening night by the fervent Matthew Lehmann, who is mistaken as dead after a battle, causing his grief-stricken wife Elizabeth (Carina Roberts) to throw herself from the castle tower in despair. Upon discovering that his beloved wife is lost, Dracula renounces humankind and transforms into a ruthless vampire. Adorned in fabulous 15th century gowns, capes and finery, Roberts and Lehmann performed this opening partnership tenderly, passionately and adeptly.

The scene changes and we are transported swiftly to London, 1897, where young solicitor Jonathan Harker (Oscar Valdes) is planning to travel to Transylvania on business, leaving behind his fiancée Mina (Roberts), who bears a striking resemblance to Count Dracula’s dear Elizabeth… As the elaborate story begins to unfold, we are treated to a sweeping, elegant waltz – performed skilfully by the corps de ballet – and ever more decadent scenery.

The lusciously eerie chamber of Count Dracula’s castle, in particular, is a feast for the eyes; designers Daniels and Cusick Smith have captured each detail right down to the cobwebbed cornices and glowing candelabras. It is here that we first encounter Old Count Dracula, played with a suitable cruel intensity by WAB Artistic Director Aurélien Scannella. The swapping of Draculas from old to young becomes a motif throughout the ballet, with Lehmann and Scannella neatly replacing each other at the taste of fresh blood. Memorable in this scene are the three vampire brides (Alexa Tuzil, Kymberleigh Cowley and Sarah Hepburn) who bring a lively dynamic to a party of the undead, all writhing torsos and evocative arcing limbs. Harker, who has now joined the throng, shares an unexpectedly comical duet with Young Dracula, dancing a spirited and somewhat masochistic Argentinian tango, filled with blood-lust, over nothing more than a papercut.

Dracula and victim
Melissa Boniface, Matthew Edwardson, Oliver Edwardson and Aurelien Scannella in ‘Dracula’. Photo: Jon Green.

Wojciech Kilar’s rich score, played by West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Judith Yan, builds tension and drama throughout the evening, although the penetrating chords do, at times, feel repetitive without the payoff of a true climax. Pastor’s choreography, though skilled in the main, has moments of monotony, particularly as the complex narrative weaves towards conclusion and partnerships repeat without appearing to really develop the story.

Nonetheless, the full company performed with steely precision on opening night, and special mentions must go to Melissa Boniface for her natural demeanour and dramatic range as Lucy (from sweet young woman to chilling vampire) and the energy and athleticism of Jesse Homes as asylum inmate Renfield. Roberts, as Mina, showed technical prowess and presence that belied her years, shifting seamlessly between delicate longing and fierce passion, though at times the drama felt a little heavy handed. I expect big things from this pocket rocket.

A tale of terror and seduction, Dracula runs until 22 September.

Picture top: Matthew Lehmann as Dracula with his Vampire Brides, Alexa Tuzil, Kymberleigh Cowley and Sarah Hepburn. Photo: Jon Green.

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Author —
Amy Wiseman

Amy Wiseman is a WAAPA dance graduate who enjoys working in a variety of roles as a teacher, projects manager, performer/collaborator with Unkempt Dance and occasional writer. Her favourite piece of playground equipment is the triple horizontal bar.

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