‘Count …The Legend of Dracula’ Frightfully Entertaining Despite Flaws


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Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

Lake Erie Ballet with Neos Dance Theatre – Count …The Legend of Dracula
Lake Erie Ballet Performance Studios
Erie, Pennsylvania
November 5, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For Lake Erie Ballet’s inaugural production in its new 1020 Holland Street facility that will soon be home to the 59-year-old dance school, its professional company and a Black Box Theater, LEB, in conjunction with Mansfield, Ohio-based Neos Dance Theatre, presented Neos artistic director Robert Wesner’s Count …The Legend of Dracula.

The ballet created in 2010 took on an added air of spookiness in LEB’s dark, semi-raw, pre-renovation performance space that will soon be  transformed into dance studios.

Wesner’s version of the Dracula story differed from the many Dracula ballets currently in circulation by focusing on different aspects of Irish author Bram Stoker’s original 1897 Gothic horror novel. Wesner’s ballet excluded Count Dracula’s henchman Renfield, often seen in other productions and added a number of ancillary characters from townspeople to vampires in order to accommodate more roles for children and teens in the family-friendly ballet production. Perhaps most intriguing however, was Wesner’s choice to humanize the Dracula character by presenting him as not just a heartless, bloodthirsty monster, but a once caring man who still pined for his long dead wife Elizabetha.

(L-R) Francisco Aguilar and Izabelly Possatto in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(L-R) Francisco Aguilar and Izabelly Possatto in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

The ballet in two acts opened with the introduction of English estate agent Jonathan Harker, danced by LEB’s Francisco Aguilar and his fiancée Mina, danced by LEB’s Izabelly Possatto in a love pas de deux. The pair had nice chemistry in Wesner’s smooth, flowing choreography set to soft music.

The mood then quickly turned from sweet to accosting as Harker arrived in Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula about purchasing land in England and was met on his way by a group of gypsies looking to rob him. With this scene, and subsequent others, Wesner, who piecemealed the ballet’s score together from a mix of classical, heavy metal and rock music, began to fully introduce the use of thematic music to represent each group of characters (gypsies, vampires etc.). It’s also where the problems with this approach became evident. Abrupt shifts from classical music to loud heavy metal were jolting and the back and forth between various musical styles was at times off-putting.

Escaping the gypsies, Harker finally met with Count Dracula portrayed by LEB’s Jose Soares. Seeing a photo of Mina who resembled his late wife Elizabetha, Dracula, flashed back to the incident that forever separated him from her. And after killing a gypsy in a vengeful fit of rage Dracula was cursed by another gypsy into a depraved immortal existence.

(center) Anna Trumbo and Theresa Holland in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(Center) Anna Trumbo and Theresa Holland in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .”

Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

Soares was a standout as the Count. His dancing had an ease to it with clean lines and an ability to emote the various states of his character’s psyche.

Fattened with added scenes to provide dancing opportunities for LEB’s student dancers, the ballet’s first act dragged at times but Wesner’s choreography overall proved a nice fit for the mixed ability cast of student dancers and professionals.

LEB Student dancers in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

LEB Student dancers in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

The ballet’s second act seemed to flow better and contained more action in advancing Stoker’s tale.

Recovering from his not-so-friendly encounter with Dracula at the home of Mina’s friend, Lucy, Jonathan joined Mina and friends for an engagement party for Lucy and her fiancé, Arthur (Ethan Lee). During the party a disguised Dracula and his minions lured Lucy away and turned her into a vampire. Once bitten, Neos’ Juliana Freude as Lucy was ravenous. She exuded intense swings of emotion and struck fear as Dracula’s latest vampire bride. It was a role her skills as a dancer and actress seemed perfect for.

(L-R) Juliana Freude and Ethan Lee in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ." Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

(L-R) Juliana Freude and Ethan Lee in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

(L-R) Izabelly Possatto and Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(L-R) Izabelly Possatto and Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Christine Erin.

The second act’s action and drama built as Jonathan, Arthur and Mina sought to reclaim Lucy from the dark side to no avail.  The ballet concluded with the men having to drive a stake through the heart of the now undead Lucy, Dracula abducting Mina, and Jonathan, Arthur and a band of gypsies cornering and killing Dracula and saving Mina.

While Count …The Legend of Dracula had its flaws, in the end it was a fine community production. LEB’s trio of professionals especially Soares were splendid, as were Neos’ Freude, Lee and dancers Theresa Holland, Anna Trumbo and Mary-Elizabeth Fenn.

(Center) Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(Center) Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

 

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