Tulsa Ballet opens its 53rd season with a production that is dark, stunning and sexy: Ben Stevenson's Dracula.
Set to music by Franz Liszt, arranged by John Lanchbery and performed by Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, Stevenson's $1 million production, first presented by the Houston and Pittsburgh Ballets in 1997, is a theatrical spectacle, in addition to a marvelous ballet.
The New York Times has called it "a Dracula beyond Stoker's darkest dreams," and it makes its Oklahoma debut this week.
"I have been looking at bringing a production of Dracula to Tulsa for the past decade," said Marcello Angelini, TB's artistic director. "In the process, I saw about a dozen productions of the ballet. None of them really did much for me."
Angelini said he admired Stevenson's version of the ballet but worried that TB didn't have the capacity to pull it off.
"We have about 30 dancers in the company, and he needs 38 on stage," he said. "That doesn't include understudies. Eventually, three years ago, I watched it again and was blown away again by the choreography and the way he developed the story. I decided to find a way to make it work."
Using dancers from TBII, the company's pre-professional ensemble, along with former TB dancers and a local actor, the company is pulling it off. It also enlisted the help of local Broadway presenter Celebrity Attractions to market the production.
"Larry and Ed Payton and I have been talking for a long time about finding ways for our two organizations to collaborate," Angelini said. "Dracula presented the perfect opportunity.
"We worked together in the past, many years ago, when Phantom of the Opera first came to Tulsa. It was a great experience but, at that time, both Celebrity and TB were very different organizations. Today, Larry and Ed have transformed their establishment into a premiere presenter of great Broadway shows, with performances and casts as exciting, if at time more exciting, then what we can see in New York.
"Tulsa Ballet is now considered to be an international entity. We both operate in Tulsa and around the country/world. Working together, on these renewed bases, has been great."
Stevenson streamlined Stoker's novel so that the entire production takes place in Transylvania, eliminating The Count's tryst in London. In addition to Dracula, danced by Alfonso Martin and Wang Yi, the leads are Flora, a village girl, and Svetlana, the innkeeper's daughter, both danced by Karina Gonzales and Soo Youn Cho, and Fredrick, Svetlana's suitor, also danced by Martin and Yi.
"Mr. Stevenson's version of the ballet explores the sensuality and the multi-faceted personality of this character, as well as his need for love," Angelini said. "It's a tormented story, with very moody music, and yet one that provides plenty of opportunities to everybody in the cast.
"The role of Dracula is exhausting. The emotional energy to stay in character for the entire work is draining our principal dancers. The role of Flora is very ethereal to start with but then, once 'kissed' by the Count, she becomes aggressive and hostile. It provides a great platform for the dancers to explore two diametrically opposite facets of the human personality.
"And then the roles of Svetlana and Fredrick provide the pyrotechnic excitement for the show," he said. "They have a very long, intricate and yet touching pas de deux in the second act."
Martin and Gonzales will dance together, as will Yi and Cho, alternating between Dracula and Flora and Fredrick and Svetlana. Angelini said alternating the roles allows the dancers to, on one night, explore the emotional aspects of their performances, on the other night, show off the technicality of their dancing. He said the production delivers some challenging choreography for the rest of the company as well.
Part of what makes the production so spectacular and such a good fit for collaboration between TB and Celebrity Attractions are the theatrical elements Stevenson has incorporated.
Dracula and his undead brides fly over the stage, a stagecoach careens on and off the stage, and The Count dies in a flash of light atop a massive chandelier.
It should be a production unlike anything seen before by TB audiences.
Dracula is the third of Stevenson's ballets to be presented by TB. The company previously staged his Three Preludes and Cinderella. Angelini said the "inventiveness of choreography" is Stevenson's trademark, and his ballets have been performed by some of the best companies in the world, including Paris Opera Ballet, English National Ballet, La Scala, the Australian Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet and Teatro dell' Opera di Roma.
Angelini expects his audiences will enjoy Dracula as much as they've enjoyed other works presented by the company.
"Dracula is a story that, whether you grow up in Europe or in the U.S., you will hear about and be familiar with," he said. "People all over the world are fascinated with the story of this individual, a conflicted soul that has no choice but to kill in order to stay alive. At the same time, I am always looking for ballets that have a known theme -- works that will bring new audiences to the theater to see Tulsa Ballet and dance in general."
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