‘Dracula’ dances in to mesmerize viewers

Ben Labe | February 9, 2011    

“Before Edward …” quips the poster for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s upcoming Valentine’s Day production, “there was Dracula. “Dracula”

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Friday-Sunday, Benedum Center

Tickets: $20.75-$90.75 or 412-454-9107

Pitt Arts Tickets: Students: 13.50, Faculty/Staff: 17.50

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“Before Edward …” quips the poster for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s upcoming Valentine’s Day production, “there was Dracula.”

Between those two vampires — reminds Erin Halloran, a principal dancer at the theater — are countless other mythological beings.

“Vampires have been popular for a long time,” she said, singling out Anne Rice’s famous “The Vampire Chronicles” as an example.

The poster refers to Edward Cullen, the vampire heartthrob of the popular teen-book series, “Twilight.”

People have always been fascinated with eternal life. Plus, Halloran said, “There is some sensuality in the whole idea of being bitten.”

Halloran will play the role of Svetlana in the ballet theater’s upcoming performance of Dracula, based on the classic novel by Bram Stoker. The ballet will feature music by German composer Franz Liszt and choreography by Ben Stevenson, who is the current artistic director of Texas Ballet Theater in Fort Worth.

When the story opens, Dracula already has a retinue of wives. Nonetheless, the promiscuous vampire is intent upon wooing the peasant girl, Svetlana. She is currently betrothed to another man named Frederick. Dracula attempts to seduce her throughout the ballet.

The show will consist of three acts and two intermissions. This will be the company’s fourth performance of “Dracula,” and the third for artistic director Terrence Orr. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s last production of the show was in 2004.

The ballet theater always tries to present a ballet about love during Valentine’s Day weekend, Orr said, and “[Dracula] is a story about eternal love, in a way.” One only has to look at his many wives to realize that much.

The theater’s principal dancer Nurlan Abougaliev is excited to play such a passionate and strong character as Dracula. This season is Abougaliev’s first as a principal at the company, and he acknowledges the responsibility the status commands. “When you’re a principal, you need to work even harder,” he said, because on stage you cannot get away with making any mistakes.

On nights when he is not performing Dracula, Abougaliev will be playing Svetlana’s fiance, Frederick.

Having had the opportunity to perform another version of “Dracula” before, Abougaliev said Stevenson’s version is notable for its beautiful pas de deux’s, or duets, and fantastic special effects. Those effects include flying, pyrotechnics and characters transforming into vampires on stage.

Halloran also praised the choreography because it provides “great opportunities for corps de ballet work.” The corps represents the ensemble of dancers that accompany the leads on stage.

The ballet theater has commissioned Stevenson’s works before, including “Alice In Wonderland” (1999) and “Cinderella” (2002).

Orr said that Stevenson, who is typically a classical choreographer, is a masterful storyteller, in life and in his profession. He introduces many nuances into his choreography to reinforce any story that he is telling.

Like any adaptation, this reenactment of the Dracula legend is sure to curtail large segments of the original novel.

However, Orr said that such an event is inevitable and sometimes even necessary.

“There is always some artistic license. You move [the story] a bit, and try to figure out where your highs and lows are,” he said.

Whether Edward will ever gain the acclaim to enter the annals of literary history is improbable. Nonetheless, one thing is clear — Dracula is the reigning vampire of posterity.

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