University of Arkansas, Pulaski Theater
Sunday, October 21, 2018 2PM
“Choreograph with caution!”
…That’s the warning that should be issued to every ballet company and dance-maker in America who attempts to reimagine the venerable vampire tale, the “Dracula” story. Ever since Bram Stoker penned the novel of the dark prince of Transylvania in 1897, it’s been told, retold and recast until it’s become a caricature of the original gothic myth. (Think Count Chocula or the Three Stooges meet Count Dracula) So, modern-day choreographers have to carefully dance on that fine line between the macabre and the maudlin, the frightening and the frivolous. And, kudos to new Ballet Arkansas Artistic Director Michael Fothergill for mostly successfully navigating that middle course in his latest story-ballet.
Now, having said that, the multi-media projections and video clips that were used to “flesh out” the bare bones production of the story used a little too many fake fangs and blood for my taste. A little goes a long way in retelling the story of Vlad the Impaler’s lineage. When the production elements were most successful were in setting the scene as a train station, gothic hall or English garden backdrop. (The backstage projections actually take a page out of Tennessee William’s playbook. His original script for “The Glass Menagerie” included instructions for the use of such projections. Think “blue roses” on the backdrop when the actress spoke of suffering from “pleuroses”.)
American ballet companies are flocking to Dracula like moths to a blood-red flame hoping to replicate the seasonal success of the annual Christmas Ballet (More on “Nutcracker” later). The only problem is that there is no instantly recognizable music by Tchaikovsky that resurrects the season from the dead every Black Friday. Fothergill skillfully stitches together a montage of music from Rachmaninoff, Poulenc, Shostakovich, Liszt and others to solve that shortfall.
Still, several missed opportunities in the show: I wanted the mirror to reflect Jonathan, but, not Dracula who would then turn it to the wall. I wanted the bench to be more than just a prop, but, a launching pad for bat-winged flight. I wanted the brides of Dracula to be more than just one-note, crack hoes jonesing for a corpuscular fix.
And, this “Dracula” takes a wide detour around the psychological underpinnings of the vampire mythology. The repressed sexuality of the Victorian era and the erotic homosexual undertones were just a careless whisper, a love that still did not dare speak its name. Missing also were the seduction and nuance and restraint that could be exhibited in this overpowering addiction to blood and all it represents. Alas! A scarf is just a scarf in this show, no matter how long and how blood-red it may become.
The Ballet Arkansas dancers suffer from the same lack of thespian training common to most American dancers. In this country, too many aspiring dance students are denied the opportunity to perform in full-length story ballets other than the “Nutcracker” and that hardly counts. (When was the last time you had a dramatic, emotional connection to the story-telling in that Christmas ballet? Not having seen the latest Disneyfication of “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” yet, I venture to guess it was when Gelsey Kirkland slipped and fell in Baryshnikov’s venerable PBS “Nutcracker”.) It’s difficult for young dancers to create an effective new persona on stage when they hardly know who they are off-stage. As a result, too many Americans end up dancing from “the outside in”, rather than “inside out”. I wished for more breath, more upper back, more epaulement and more motivation. Why did you walk there and, then, run there? What did you feel when you saw Dracula dead on the floor? Why are you constantly hugging Lucy over and over?
The directors told me after the show that most of their dancers had never performed a story ballet. If that’s the case, the future course for this promising Ballet Arkansas company is clear. With Romeo and Juliet’s Balcony scene and the second act of Swan Lake still to come this season, success will be measured by the growth in character clarity and much more meaningful motivation for movement.
I was watching PBS the other day and it had a travel documentary on visiting Paris and I thought of you!o) What an exciting adventure you’re on! I’m extremely jealous, but, proud of you for getting out of your comfort zone and exploring this great big world!
As for us, we’ve FINALLY moved into our lakeside home in northwest Arkansas after two months of waiting for remodeling to get done. And, it’s STILL NOT DONE! But, Missy has done an amazing job decorating and it’s starting to feel like home. Soon as we get the plumbing problems fixed, it’ll be even better.
I’ve started teaching at a small studio in a nearby town called the ________________. I do a little workshop for their teachers and advanced dancers and I teach their boys and teach an intermediate ballet class. Only four classes a week right now, but, that’s expected to go up next semester after the new year.
I spent my first month trying out a hot yoga studio, which I enjoyed. But, then, I found a small ballet company that had class every weekday and started going there. I offered to teach for that company and school, but, they didn’t seem too interested. After a while, paying $15 a class didn’t make sense since I get paid to teach and take class at this other place.
I haven’t really taken advantage of living lakeside yet. The plan is to buy a kayak or stand-up paddle board or paddle boat and use the lake to recreate and exercise. We have installed a small dance studio in our walk-out basement. We installed a triple-weave sub-floor and put our performance Marley on top. We’re getting bids on installing mirrors on two walls now.
Missy also bought a pool table from the old owners and gifted it to me. I’m starting to get my groove back with the cue stick. I used to play a lot when I was back in the company. Need to get back good enough to give my brother-in-law a run for his money.
But, enough about us! What about you? Is there an Instagram page or FaceBook page that we could see some pix of you in the City of Lights? What’s been the hardest thing to adjust to in France? What do you miss about the U-S besides family? What do you love the most about being in Paris besides being in Paris? How is being an au pair? What sights have you seen and what are you planning on seeing? Are you fluent in French now? Are the French boys everything you hoped they’d be?
Miss you! Write when you can!